When implementing technology at your company, sometimes less is more.
I’m always looking to implement new apps to optimize different company functions. Every time an app promises to do something a bit better, quicker, or easier than the ones we already use, it’s tempting to jump on the opportunity to implement it. But here’s the thing: As the number of apps we use every day at work adds up, information becomes harder to locate, and our digital workplace becomes complicated, messy and overwhelming.
This is called tech clutter, or digital clutter, and today, it plagues virtually every company.
At first, the typical company used email, an enterprise resource software like Oracle or SAP, and maybe a small handful of business applications for scheduling, planning, organizing, etc. But today, the average company uses dozens of apps. The average business is now using a staggering 129 apps — an increase of 68% over the last four years — and research shows that 43% of people feel they need to switch between too many apps just to get basic work done.
We all complain about how hard it is to stay on top of our email. But our inboxes are just a microcosm of a much larger issue. It isn’t just emails anymore. We’re all burdened by massive tech clutter. And it’s having a negative impact on your company, your team, the way we work together, and our collective mental health. Here’s why:
Very few, if any, companies today have a solid handle on tech clutter.
This leads to a variety of issues, including information silos — essentially, a work environment that makes effective communication impossible. At Karbon, we too were facing the same problematic information silos. We’ve consolidated into Dropbox and Google Docs, dramatically reduced our reliance on Slack and are using Karbon to manage the decision-making process.
Individual teams have their own favorite apps. Perhaps marketing uses Word docs, customer service uses Google docs, and the sales folks use Coda, which only creates another degree of separation. It’s vital that business leaders notice this happening and create uniformity by mandating the universal use of a single app.
An entire industry has emerged aiming to integrate our technology and create a more seamless, connected digital experience. But integration solutions require considerable investment and maintenance as well. Sometimes they aren’t as helpful as they claim to be — and in some cases, attempts to integrate only create even more information silos.
We’ve reduced the number of applications that we use at Karbon and they’re now heavily integrated.
We consolidated our apps by implementing the Microsoft Azure Stack, which provides a lot of flexibility for our developers to optimize each individual program for our purposes, and ultimately get rid of some. While this route is by no means a total fix, it can certainly help you cut down on the total number of apps your company uses.
One of the best bits of advice I have for business leaders making technology decisions is to focus on what I like to call the “front line” — vital functions like sales and billing. If you’re not collecting money efficiently, that’s a huge issue, obviously. The point is that you should identify your front line, optimize your apps there first, then work backward down the line, from customer experience to marketing, etc.
Often, the best apps are costly, so also consider return-on-investment, and prioritize your front line when working with a set budget. In other words, invest in the best tech for your most important functions.
Both organizations big and small are inhibited by tech clutter in different ways.
In small, rapidly growing organizations, efficiency is absolutely vital. So for them, it’s important to make sure each and every app truly adds value. As always, lean and nimble is the name of the game for startups — and in that regard, tech clutter can quickly bog a small company down.
At large companies, there’s so much information being created and distributed that it’s imperative to create a well-defined system for managing it all. Especially because the departments of large companies can become especially separated. When each department has its own way of doing things, and its own preferred apps, tech clutter can quickly get out of hand.
For companies of any size, tech clutter can stifle company growth in a multitude of ways. To name a few:
It makes the training process more complicated. When a new team member is brought onboard, every app your company uses adds to the breadth of your training materials.
It makes your company less efficient by increasing the time dedicated to information storage and location. Every business leader should work to understand how their employees feel about how easy it is for them to store and locate information. Much of the time, employees spend a lot of time deciding which app to use for which information, and figuring out which app has the information they’re looking for. This can be a serious efficiency detractor.
Employees can become overwhelmed by the tasks given to them by different apps. It’s easy for business leaders to think, “Well, these apps are making everything so easy and efficient that surely my employees are able to handle everything.” But in reality, apps can create massive backlogs of tasks. It’s important to remember that tech clutter isn’t just the number of apps we deal with, but also the work created by them. For example, Coinbase grew so quickly that they didn’t have the personnel to deal with an extremely high volume of support tickets. At one point, they had a backlog of 20,000 support tickets waiting for responses.
Tech clutter is a problem that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. So company leaders and technology decision-makers should always be thinking about and identifying opportunities to streamline their digital processes.
But be sure to think about where it will add value, the benefits your team have, and whether it will solve existing problems rather than create new ones. Native integration is often the way to go and there can be a cost to being on the bleeding edge.
You may not have even realized the many ways tech clutter has negatively impacted your company’s overall productivity — and perhaps more important: the peace-of-mind of your employees.
Our stack is always evolving and never perfect, but we’ve made excellent progress over the last 12 months.
CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon
Stuart started his first business 11 years ago and has had many successful ventures, including Paycycle, founded in 2009, which he sold to Xero in 2011. He then built the global Xero Payroll team that delivers payroll software across the US, AU, UK and NZ markets. Stuart is now paving the way for smarter tools to improve how knowledge workers collaborate with their colleagues and look after their clients.