Explosion of Apps Stymying, Not Streamlining, Productivity
The growing number of applications in use by organizations is threatening to overload employees and contribute to reduced productivity, instead of enhancing it.
A recent survey of 500 U.S. organizations, conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of knowledge discovery technology provider Onna, found that the overall number of apps in use in American organizations — and the amount of information generated from those apps — has increased to the point where respondents said they spend nearly half an hour per day trying to locate relevant information. This amounts to nearly 2.5 hours of lost time each week.
What's clear from the research is cutting down the number of paid services can not only help companies achieve significant cost savings, but it can also help them score important gains in employee productivity. When employees have more processes to follow than necessary, inefficiencies, redundancies and frequent disruptions are more likely to hinder their workflows.
According to Hired.com CEO Josh Brenner, a typical company’s tech stack could require employees switching between four or five different apps at any given moment, weighing down the process. Think Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, Slack, Teams, Notion, Asana and even Zoom — to accomplish one task. "While designed to help us, many of these processes have ultimately inhibited the increased productivity they promised," Brenner said.
Who's to Blame for App Bloat?
One of the biggest contributing factors to app bloat is, no doubt, the incessantly growing number of applications on the market. "As we continue to see high rates of VC interest and funding in this space, we’ll reflectively see a rise in the number of workplace applications available for companies to choose from," Brenner said.
But management also bears some of the responsibility. Lack of deep research into a product's full capabilities, including seeking employee feedback, is another reason why employers find themselves with a lot of solutions that ultimately do the same thing. Or worse, solutions that don't talk to each other and end up duplicating work for employees.
"When key decision-makers take the time to investigate the full offerings of a platform, it’s easier to determine all of the relevant functions to their company," Brenner said. "Different departments need different capabilities than others. HR functions will require certain tools marketing doesn’t, and vice versa."
He said the risk of that is that if gone unchecked, departments could have entirely different app ecosystems that aren’t the best fit to provide the services they may need. "This leads to lost information or misalignment on what’s the single source of truth," he said.
External Influences Contributing to App Overload
For Shannon Kalvar, research director at IDC, there are three external contributors to application bloat in today's digital workplace:
- Rapid turnover: people unknowingly recreating what they already have
- Uncoordinated citizen development (which he calls "the dark side" of enabling citizen developers): where problems are solved in insolation
- CX: apps being developed to address customers' wants and expectations
In his view, remote work also plays a role in this, but only indirectly.
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"We know from way too much data at this point that one of the enduring effects of hybrid and work-from-home is an increase in connections and conversations within the team and a decrease in connections or conversations outside the team," he said.
No Longer Just an IT Issue
Regardless of the cause, Brenner said the best way for companies to manage their app stack and reduce bloat is to regularly audit their workplace tools and determine, for each of them, if they increase or decrease productivity.
"By performing these regular audits, companies can reduce the number of apps they’re having employees use at any given time," he said, adding that companies should also review each app's full spectrum of capabilities to determine if there's overlap and potential for consolidation.
Kalvar's colleague Holly Muscolino, group vice president of content strategies and the future of work at IDC, said these decisions are no longer in IT's hands; business leaders and senior decision-makers, including line-of-business leaders, play a critical role in this. "Our research shows that enterprise look to partners to help them deploy, monitor and maintain intelligent digital workspace ecosystems," she said.
One-third of respondents to a US-only "quick poll" IDC conducted last year revealed that context switching (switching between applications) was a primary challenge that prevented employees from working as efficiently as possible. "We asked that again in January of this year in a larger, multi-national study, and 43% of respondents said that time spent switching between applications was a primary challenge that prevent employees from working as efficiently as possible," Muscolino said.
Brenner agrees, putting even more responsibility on HR's shoulders. "Ultimately, reducing app bloat improves the employee experience and productivity, which is a key responsibility for HR departments," he said, though not shifting blame entirely away from employees, who are required to use and learn all of the different systems companies have in place.
"For this reason, [leaders should] gather feedback regularly from employees to ensure their concerns regarding company systems are transparently addressed," Brenner said.