Maturing Workforce Impacts Technology Purchasing
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 50- to 59-year-olds make up one-third of the full-time, permanent federal workforce. This figure means that more than half of government employees are reaching retirement age.
The maturing workforce will effect government agencies in two major ways:
1. As colleagues retire, remaining government employees will be expected to perform additional job functions. Automation tools will be needed to help employees perform expanding job responsibilities in a timely and efficient manner.
2. Younger workers entering public-sector employment will be more accustomed to working with technology, and these employees expect a certain level of tech support to meet their job requirements.
Both of these outcomes point to the increased need for technology, specifically mobile technology that allows government employees to work outside the boundaries of traditional offices.
However, as with any significant investment, government agencies need to determine t he cost and perceived value of mobility solutions over time. In addition, that cost should be looked at positively by considering the value resulting from streamlining operations. Negative concerns should also be addressed, such as the cost incurred by an organization when implemented technology fails to perform or meet expectations.
Various criteria can help decision-makers measure technology’s long-term value based on specific organizational needs.
Measuring Cost and Value
Two common measurement metrics—total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI)—play a key role in technology decision-making. As its name implies, TCO covers the total cost to own a product throughout its lifetime. This measurement includes the purchase price, deployment, maintenance, and decommission of a specific product.
TCO cannot entirely be calculated until the day technology is retired. However, the practice of keeping costs in control over that lifetime can be far more important than keeping costs down at any one point in the TCO equation, including at the initial purchase. The secret to making wise capital decisions lies in using TCO to manage risk and minimize unexpected lifetime costs.
ROI is the relative value a product will bring to an organization throughout its deployment. Maximizing return on investment relates to obtaining the most advantage possible from resources. However, ROI does not simply equate to recouping the original purchase price of technology.
If an organization can determine how much time will genuinely be saved or which goals can be better met with the right technology, ROI will pinpoint exactly how much value can be delivered beyond any specific dollar figure such as the purchase price. ROI will continue to accrue as long as customers are better served, field teams gain efficiency, and information can be gathered quicker or more accurately.
While TCO determines how much a solution will actually cost, ROI reveals how much value will be provided to users. Both metrics provide fundamental considerations to help organizations make wise procurement decisions.
Product Reliability Affects Total Cost
TCO is especially significant in mobile deployments, because of the high risk of computer failure. Making the decision to embrace mobile PC technology is based on an expectation that solutions will work whenever and wherever needed. Unfortunately, that reliability can never be totally guaranteed.
In 2006, Gartner, Inc., published a report benchmarking computer failure rates, which included the need for some form of hardware repair. The report found that within the first year, business notebook PCs failed 15 percent of the time. By the third year, those estimates escalated to 22 percent. PC Magazine , in its annual reader survey (published in September 2006) reported an annualized failure rate of 23 percent for business notebook PCs.
Although it is unclear whether these computer failures were caused by poor quality or by the way individuals use or abuse their machines, this level of downtime can significantly impact both ROI and TCO. This data underscores the importance of building solutions appropriate to the user environment. In addition, the projected failure rate of notebook PCs is a main reason that more reliable, rugged computers are deployed by government agencies.
Downtime impacts operations by directly affecting the ability to:
• Access information. To work effectively when located outside of traditional offices, government employees must be able to access files and departmental data as necessary.
• Remain remote. With a mobile computer, employees can submit forms and information while on the road, reducing manual paperwork, travel time, and fuel costs.
• Respond quickly in emergencies. During times of crisis, government officials need to access and transmit information wherever needed and as quickly as possible.
• Map territory. Many military and government field workers are dependent upon GIS (geographical information systems) to display maps of utility grids, street maps, the location of power lines and poles, and other assets.
Factor in the Intangibles
The examples above indicate obvious connections between technology and operational efficiency. However, less concrete factors are also important. For instance, intuition and experience play critical roles in making a successful buying decision.
Any TCO model works best when intangibles are considered. Some product features that don’t directly increase productivity or efficiency, for example, may have a strong impact on the person using the mobile device or on the experience of the person being served.
• How much will productivity increase if a user has a touch screen instead of a keyboard?
• If users can read screens in full daylight, how much time can they save?
• How does using the specific technology impact overall morale? Employees value receiving the correct tools to do their jobs, as well as being trained effectively.
• How do constituents perceive entities that embrace technology to improve service?
Of course, any technology solution must have clear buy-in support from employees to be effective. In some cases, government agencies will be automating paper processes for the first time. This transition is among the greatest challenges, because adoption rates among first-time users can make or break the success of any long-term project.
Invest Up-Front in Operational Analysis
No matter what project is undertaken, a critical step involves establishing goals and identifying ways in which an organization can ensure that the TCO remains low and ROI stays at high levels.
For optimum results, an operational analysis should include an honest assessment of technology alternatives based on their relative cost and perceived value. This analysis should include financial data, validated by accounting procedures, with figures that support future allocation processes for internal resources as well as projections for future budget requirements.
In analyzing technology procurements, purchasing officials will gain an understanding of purpose-built, severe-service computing solutions, by which PCs are engineered to be rugged from the inside out. These ruggedized computers will generally be more beneficial to their organization than trying to place corporate standard notebook PCs into heavy-duty service. In fact, analysis should help prove that taking a “one size fits all” computing approach can be detrimental and counter-productive to the goals of process automation.
The goal of any technology implementation should be to ensure that workers are given the correct tools to help them work more efficiently and effectively. With these factors in mind, calculating TCO and ROI becomes much easier, and the business case for adopting technology gains new-found clarity. •
About the Author
Jan O’Hara is Senior Director of Sales for Panasonic Computer Solutions Company (PCSC). She is responsible for the sale of Toughbook laptops to all DoD and civilian agencies, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. O’Hara began her career as a computer specialist at the U.S. State Department, and she commands more than 25 years of hands-on experience in the field of desktop and mobile computing.