Employers Not Giving Staff a Chance to Lift Productivity

Business Matters

April 30, 2019

Bosses need to engage and train their staff better to help solve the nations chronic productivity problems and prepare their companies for the future, research has suggested.

Half of employees claim that their organizations are failing to create the right work environment, only a fifth believe that they are keeping pace with technological change and two thirds say that they are given no incentive to learn new skills, according to a survey by Deloitte.

The accounting groups findings support fears that British companies are falling behind. More needs to be done to improve employees experience, sharpen up leadership and increase on-the-job training, its report said.

Human capital is a businesss biggest asset, Will Gosling, a partner at Deloitte UK, said. Employers are already facing huge disruption challenges, from technology advances to demographic changes, and an unproductive and unengaged workforce simply should not be one of them.

Britains productivity has stagnated since the financial crisis and is so far below that of other advanced G7 nations that it takes a British worker five days to produce what a German or French one can deliver in four.

The productivity problems have been blamed on shortcomings such as a lack of investment and cheap labor, but studies also have linked it with bad management. The UK has a very long tail of companies with weak productivity where bosses are failing to follow best practice and adopt new technologies.

Deloittes Global Human Capital Trends report, which compiled responses from 10,000 people including human resource professionals and business leaders in 119 countries, appeared to confirm those concerns. It said that only 22% of British employees were satisfied with their companys use of technology, compared with 51% in Germany, and only 18% believed that their leadership programs are effective at developing leaders to meet evolving business and economic challenges.

A big majority of employees, 84%, believed that there was a link between staff engagement and productivity, but 68% of companies did not measure the correlation. This suggests UK business leaders need to think differently to prevent productivity slumps, Deloitte said.

Staff training is also considered vital to prepare people for the future world of work, where machine learning and automation will replace large parts of the labor market. Last week, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that 11.7% of UK jobs were threatened by automation and 26% faced significant change in the next 15 to 20 years.

Yet Deloittes study found that in Britain 69% of the workforce were given no incentive to learn new skills. Only 50% of employees said that their companies were effective at creating a positive work environment and only 36% believed that employers successfully engaged staff in career advancement opportunities.

The workplace is seeing a huge transition, as traditional organizational structures and hierarchies are being broken down into team structures. Adopting team structures will improve productivity and in turn performance, so businesses that have not yet made this transition are at risk of falling further behind, Mr. Gosling said.

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The Challenges and Rewards of Adopting DevOps

Information Week India

April 30, 2019

By Joseph White

Pioneered by progressive web companies, DevOps came together as a discipline out of a desire to break the traditional waterfall approach to delivering software. Working with an agile mindset, they developed automation tools and processes that enabled products to be delivered in a more iterative way. After open sourcing these tools, an open source community formed, providing further tools that helped to streamline the software development process. The resulting methodology, which continues to mature, is what we now call DevOps.

As the world moves towards cloud and services, DevOps adoption is increasing. This is because organizations that utilize cloud services are more likely to have dynamic architectures that can accommodate continuous delivery, and so lend themselves to more iterative deployments. Conversely, legacy structures require legacy development practices, so a waterfall approach will remain in place until system architectures are evolved to more modular states. Once this is achieved, DevOps is as inevitable as the automated manufacturing assembly line, with practitioners moving much faster than their legacy counterparts

One of the main aims of DevOps is to break down the walls that exist between teams involved in the software delivery pipeline. Destroying silos means development teams and operations teams are no longer protective of processes they once owned. Instead, skills and knowledge are combined within a single team that has complete ownership of the entire product lifecycle, as well as the tools and processes that aid development. This means there are no handoffs from team to team as the DevOps teams work is only done when the product itself is delivered.

The long-term benefits of DevOps include consistent speed, delivery, quality, and resiliency, as well as reduced time to address issues for customers and a more sustainable product lifecycle. To achieve these, as well as a lower total cost of ownership, software providers must keep up with the automation requirements that come with DevOps. Continuous innovation and development, development tooling for telemetry and support, and quality automation are just a few examples of tools and processes that are generally neglected. But if developers are engaged effectively and given ownership over these areas, such shortcomings will be avoided.

Organizations that fail to address the automation requirements will end up with a traditional operations team they call DevOps because they want to seem connected to the product, but this is DevOps in name only. They will continue to suffer from the problems that exist with a segregated operations team: inefficiencies of handoffs and the product quality issues that come with a lack of product knowledge and ownership.

Automated deployments are a prerequisite of DevOps, so architectures that make automation easier are an inevitable result of DevOps adoption. Microservices reduce the size and testability of a unit of deployable code and so make the automated asset easier to manage. Microservices also infer APIs as the only means of interaction, and so provide a more stable, contract-based relationship between software components of a system. APIs combined with microservices allow a contained amount of flexibility within a system, without compromising it.

The contained context of microservices also allows customers and developers to depend on tested and stable features that can be seamlessly swapped out or changed at any moment, without affecting the product. Such alterations are unthinkable when working with monolithic architectures as there is no way to verify the quality of the software in a short period of time. So, when a microservices architectural approach is taken, DevOps is accelerated.

As major cloud providers continue to educate the software development community on the benefits of DevOps, adoption of the methodology will continue to grow. Many of the major players are also making it simpler for developers to support their products with fully managed services, and providing excellent tooling to automate it, which lowers the bar to entry.

With support from large organizations, as well as the thriving open source community, DevOps tools will likely advance to the point where intelligent automation allows self-service of IT requests, commonly referred to as NoOps (no operations). Whether ops can truly be automated is a contentious topic within the software development community, but if the advancements of the last few years are anything to go by, such a proposition can hardly be ruled out. What is important to remember is that DevOps is a journey with no finite destination. As new tools and practices are developed, DevOps will continue to evolve.

Attitudes must also evolve. DevOps requires a rethink about the responsibility of development and operations teams. When done right, this emphatically means one team. In an organization where this is not the case, the legacy of traditional ops forces its own existence in a future state. Territorial disputes abound, and politics tend to rain on the DevOps parade. So, before going down the path of DevOps, an organization must be committed to becoming culturally as well as structurally lean.

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Recalls of Medical Devices and Drugs Are Up

The Conversation

April 29, 2019

By George Ball

From the valsartan blood pressure drug contamination that exposed thousands of patients to cancer-causing impurities, to a massive pacemaker recall undertaken to fix a hazardous software bug in half-a-million cardiac devices, healthcare product quality problems are ever-present and highly dangerous.

In fact, medical product recallsin particular severe, life-threatening pharmaceutical drug and medical device recallshave increased steadily over the last decade.

It is no surprise that medical product recalls are universally negative events. Firms seek to avoid them, customers despise them, and federal regulators are forced to oversee them. They are associated with millions of dollars of unwanted corporate costs and stock price declines, along with substantial and costly regulatory oversight each year.

I spent over a decade as a manufacturing manager in Fortune 500 medical device firms, making scores of recall decisions and recommendationssome good decisions, some less soand the last several years as an academic researcher committed solely to recall research. My colleagues and I have closely studied what causes defects that lead to recalls, as well as biases that exist in managers decisions to recall.

Excessive cost competition

In capitalistic markets, competition is viewed as a force for good. Competition can lower costs, increase access, and hopefully improve quality. These benefits attributed to competition explain the steady call for greater access to generic drugs.

While it is seldom discussed in the crowded debate on healthcare costs, there may be a downside to the never-ending call for cheaper generic drugs and more affordable care.

Research conducted with my colleagues Rachna Shah from the University of Minnesota and Kaitlin Wowak from the University of Notre Dame shows that intense generic drug competition leads to an increase in severely hazardous manufacturing-related drug recalls.

Our study, published in May 2018, shows that generic drug competition causes firms to cut corners in their manufacturing quality control practices in an effort to remain profitable, leading to an increase in life-threatening drug defects requiring a recall.

One of many examples of this type of problem is the recent Ranbaxy atorvastatin recall. Lapses in the manufacturing quality control system led to contamination from unapproved raw materials. The generic drug manufacturer agreed to a $500 million government fine.

Familiar FDA inspectors

One way to help mitigate such unfortunate side effects of competition is through U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations and quality control practices.

A key tool used by the FDA to improve product quality are plant inspections. FDA plant inspectors visit plants on a two-year rotating cycle. These inspection outcome ratings can be an early warning of future recalls from the plantif the FDA inspector accurately captures the relevant risks.

In a 2017 study with Shah and Enno Siemsen from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we found that FDA plant outcome ratings can be used to predict future recalls from products made at that plant. However, this is only true when the inspector has never visited the plant before.

Undue familiarity between the FDA inspectors and plant management weakens the accuracy of the ratings, even after just one repeat inspection. Inspectors become complacent as they become more familiar with the plant and the people who work there.

We found that rotating in a new inspector for each FDA plant inspection would significantly improve the value of these inspections and cost the FDA less than $1 million annually. A small price to pay for medical device safety.

Managerial biases

While regulatory oversight may help reduce defective products requiring a recall, another important dimension to the recall phenomenon are the managers who decide to recall a product.

Intriguingly, nearly all medical product recalls are voluntarily issued by firms, instead of mandated by the FDA. The voluntary nature of these recalls gives managers a high level of discretion in the recall decision.

I worked with Shah and Karen Donohue at the University of Minnesota to study managerial biases in recall decisions made by real industry managers.

One bias relates to the physicians who purchase medical devices on behalf of patients. If managers know that their physician customers are likely to detect the defect in the device before using the product on the patient, then managers are surprisingly less likely to recall. They unconsciously trust the physician to screen out detectable defects, obviating the need for a recall.

This bias was unknown to the managers who participated in this study. The firms that we worked with used these results to train decision-makers to be aware of this unwanted bias.

In the same study, we conducted a behavioral cognition test on managers before they made their recall decision. This three-question test measures whether a person makes decisions based upon either intuition or reflection.

This test was highly explanatory of how a manager made the recall decision. Reflective managers recall much less frequently, as they may tend towards analysis-paralysis, seeking excessive amounts of data before choosing to recall. This may explain why, in settings where reflective managers are making recall decisions, firms appear to delay recalls, even when doing so puts customers at an increased risk of harm.

Other causes

Several different co-authors and I have other exciting recall studies underway that seek to continue to dissect this important problem, particularly from the perspective of managerial biases.

For example, one working paper finds that medical product firms with boards of directors that have at least one woman on the board make recall decisions much more effectively and faster than firms with all-male boards.

Another working paper finds that new CEOs at consumer products firms appear to scapegoat the previous CEO. New CEOs tend to announce several recalls early in their tenure, when the previous CEO is likely to be blamed for the product quality problems.

Because product recalls are pervasive and often associated with consumer harm, I sincerely hope that rigorous research continues to unravel this complex enigma in an effort to help firms, regulators and consumers.

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Top Automation Tools Trends to Streamline Your Business

Business 2 Community.com

April 29, 2019

By Matt Shealy

More companies are leveraging automation to outpace their competition in 2019 and beyond. Companies such as Amazon and Google are staking claims in consumers homes with automated digital assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant, and shipping giant UPS has earmarked significant funds to invest in automation.

If you want to compete with the big players, soon youll have no choice but to invest in automation. Accordingly, businesses across a range of industries are automating workflows using innovative technologies to improve operations and boost profits.

Retail automation

Retail automation is one of the fastest growing technologies in the retail space. Retail automation is expected to be used by millions of retailers across nearly all industries and by 2023, it is estimated to exceed more than $19.5 billion. Additionally, retailers are already finding smart ways to automate repetitive tasks. Two in every five retailers are already working with intelligent automation.

Retail automation covers a variety of technologies including intelligent automation, artificial intelligence and inventory management among others. Retail automation is used to drive efficiencies, lower costs and help workers make decisions faster. While retail automation is often thought just to lower costs, it can also be a revenue driver by offering customers recommended products or providing smart upsells.

One example of retail automation in practice is Cin7 automation software which uses automation to reorder low inventory. It can also transfer stock from one location to another and generate real-time inventory reports to facilitate inventory management collaboration for retailers with multiple locations.

More retailers are leveraging software such as Cin7 to monitor, manage and organize sales. The technology empowers them to integrate all their commercial channels.

Inventory automation helps retailers eliminate human errors and maintain a healthy inventory ratio. Whats more, automated inventory systems help retailers increase their profit because they never run out of goods that sell.

Customer engagement

Automation can close the gap between customer expectations and average response times. Answering standard questions is one of the most redundant consumer engagement tasks of customer service. Customers who ask questions by email expect a response within an hour. Most businesses, however, take at least 12 hours to respond.

Automated technologies such as chatbots can answer common customer questions immediately. Services such as ManyChat and GoBot can enable businesses to deliver 24-7 support through social media channels such as Facebook.


Personalization is becoming a trend consumer demand from businesses. In fact, 63% of consumers say they are interested in personalized recommendations which help them find goods faster. An additional 61% would welcome personalized design ideas from professionals and similar rates are seen for personalized recipes and service suggestions.

Organizations can use this consumer demand for personalization by automating personalization. Simple steps like adding in names to emails, or creating unique newsletters based on ordered products can demonstrate to customers that the business cares about their unique needs. Additionally, solutions like InfusionSoft empowers businesses to deliver on personalization by automating customer relationship management (CRM). Using InfusionSoft, companies can automate email marketing based on consumer behavior. By integrating Infusionsoft with Shopify, for example, retailers can focus more on courting their most valuable assetexisting consumers.

Marketing automation technologies empower retailers with an intimate understanding of their best buyers. Modern marketers have moved beyond the days of guesswork. Now, marketing automation tools empower businesses with facts.

Application DevOps

DevOps is a framework being adopted by development team to allow for better collaboration and streamline app development. DevOps is often defined as the combined efforts of software developers and information technology operations to speed up how software is developed. As these teams merge their efforts, the business can support fast and flexible software development.

With platforms such as JFrog, software firms can automate the entire development lifecycle. For instance, the enterprise-ready technology JFrog integrates with Go Registry, empowering developers to automate registries and coordinate work with geographically isolated team members.

JFrog Artifactory also works with Docker, empowering programmers to automate the entire development pipeline. Admins use Docker for tasks such as hosting apps and integrating containers. Furthermore, JFrog resources makes secure app deployment easy.

Low code development

Today, business leaders want to control development outcomes, and developers want more automation, sometimes making it difficult to scale as needed. In this scenario, combining various programs for automation can prove challenging.

Low-code development, however, can enable developers to overcome these challenges. Low-code development enables non-technical workers to create business applications that cater to the specific needs of the company. This technology can be as simple as using if-this-than-that logic, while other options such as Appian eliminate the need for manual scaling and drive automated development. Ultimately, enterprises enjoy improved return-on-investment as well as increased agility thanks to low code software.

Industrial automation

Industrial automation leverages information technologies and existing control systems to create faster and more effective methods for handling processes. Overall, the goals of industrial automation include increasing the quality of the processes and allowing for increased flexibility so it can be applied to multiple parts of the business.

One application of industrial automation is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which has taken over manufacturing. Digitization and the IoT are giving firms a competitive advantage. Now, manufacturers can automate production from start to finish.

The growth of the discipline is so prevalent that some experts believe it will soon render artificial intelligence (AI) obsolete. In the future, manufacturers will embrace a new era of machine learning and enhanced security driven by the Industrial Internet of Things.

Ready or not

Now, tales of business automation captivate media headlines. As profit margins shrink and competition grows increasingly fierce, automation will serve as more than a competitive advantageit will become necessary for sustainability.

Forward-thinking business leaders are leveraging automation to develop software, manage inventories, optimize project outcomes, execute marketing campaigns and maintain customer relations. As time goes on, business leaders will only find more practical uses for automation.

With each passing year, business resources dwindle, yet consumers want more. Automation is the key to doing more with less. It empowers enterprises to improve customer experiences as well as daily operations.

Consumers are becoming more acclimated to an immersive, automated lifestyle. Today, they expect innovation to permeate all aspects of their lives. Businesses will continue to leverage automation to meet ever-expanding consumer demands. Soon, enterprises will be forced to get with the automated program or get left behind.

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