JCL Blog

Part Time Computer Operator

For the past 25 years every knowledge worker has needed a certain amount of technical skill in order to work.  Knowledge of operating systems, general business applications, and job specific tools have been required in order for a knowledge worker to add value and justify getting paid.  So work has been a combination of operating the computer and doing the actual work.  

Initially, the increases in productivity were astounding.  Moving from a hand written ledger to a spreadsheet application was at least a 10x increase in worker productivity.  I am no productivity expert, but my own personal experience would lead me to conclude that over the past 10 years this trend has flattened.   Once computers got sufficiently powerful to do the work normal knowledge workers needed done, the tool makers just added complexity -- which may have even reversed some of the productivity gains.

The last big improvement in knowledge worker productivity was probably the widespread adoption of email with attachments.  this would have been in the mid to late 90's.  Since then computers have gotten smaller, faster, and cheaper -- but they have not given us a 10x improvement in productivity.  We can stay in touch with our friends using social media, and watch movies anywhere anytime, but these have not been leaps forward in worker productivity.  We are overdue for the next big step forward.

I bet there was a time when drivers of automobiles could drive without having know anything mechanical.  They just got in and turned the key.  Soon the knowledge worker will not have to know anything about computers in order to add value and justify getting paid.  Computers will just work and knowledge workers will be able to spend 100% of their energy on their jobs.  

One could argue that the time spent now on keeping a laptop running is less than 10% of a knowledge worker's effort.  So removing this would not produce a 10x productivity improvement.  I propose that many workers confuse the time they spend serving as computer operators as a value added activity.  Building spreadsheets is work -- right?  Once a knowledge worker can dedicate all effort towards the actual job -- big gains in productivity will occur.

I can give my daughter an iPad and she just knows what to do.  No time spent being a computer operator.  Soon we will be able to do the same thing at work.  A new person to the team could contribute value on day 1 -- 100% of the time.