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6/96 Analysis: Windows at Work

Technology Has Improved. Have You?

Over the past 10 years, technology has
improved dramatically. If only we could say
the same for technology users.

by Cheryl Currid

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a decade makes (sometimes). You need only look as far as your office equipment to see the miracle of technological progress. Yet although technologies have made dramatic strides, users' ability to reap the benefits of these advancements hasn't.

Consider your own company. Do your users take full advantage of the technology at their disposal? If your company's like most, the answer is no.

Today's hot-rod computers are light-years ahead of their ancestors. Ten years ago, most businesses were using wimpy, 286-based computers with hardly more than 256KB or 512KB of memory. When the 386 rolled out, many users doubted they'd ever need such power.

When it came to printers, you could choose among three technologies--dot matrix, impact (like daisy wheels), or newfangled and expensive lasers. The first two cost about $1,000. For the privilege of watching a laser printer spew out 300 dots per inch at 6 to 8 pages per minute, you'd have to shell out more than $3,500. Back then, that seemed fast, especially compared to impact and dot-matrix printers, which noisily chugged along at 10 to 25 characters per second.

Software wasn't much better. DOS ruled, and only a few pioneers had discovered Windows.

Users choked if they had to learn more than one or two packages. Their toughest obstacles were inconsistent interfaces and steep learning curves. To make things worse, different programs used different keys for the same function. OLE didn't exist, and you couldn't cut and paste between apps.

On average, a full-function software package took 40 hours to learn. Even then, users didn't learn much more than 10 to 15 percent of its features. Power users rarely strayed from the basics. They didn't use spreadsheet ranges, didn't create graphics and barely used Tab or Page Up or Down keys.

Things are much better now, right?

Wrong. Many users still don't take full advantage of their software packages' functionality.

Windows' consistent user interface, cut-and-paste features and multitasking capabilities improved productivity, but not by much. It probably boosted productivity by only 5 to 10 percent, once users mastered the mouse, learned how to minimize and maximize windows, and figured out the slider bar. Unfortunately, few companies put forth the effort to teach their employees anything more.

As a result, people still don't use application software efficiently or correctly. They type memos into spreadsheet cells and calculate columns of numbers within word processor tables. They read e-mail, then print important messages to store in a folder. They don't use electronic calendars consistently, then blame the software when they double-book.

Over the past 10 years, computer proficiency has progressed at a snail's pace. Company leaders seem oblivious to the problem. "We've had computers here for seven to 10 years," they say. "Of course our people know how to use them." Then they change the subject.

Scare the funds out of 'em

If this hits close to home, before you approach management for training funds, first collect a horror story file. Interview co-workers about their computer nightmares. Before long, you'll have lots of good material.

Create a simple survey that queries workers about their software use. Do they need additional training, and if so, at what level? Are they stuck in first gear with the basics, or are they ready for advanced techniques?

Ask employees to calculate the number of classroom, instructor-led training hours they've had with Windows, then with each application they use. Then, ask them if they think they need more training on each package.

If your survey group is large, provide a list of features and ask employees to check off the features on which they need more training.

Finally, present your findings to management and ask for a pilot training program. Managers usually make the right decisions when presented with compelling facts.

Take a proactive stance on efficient computer use. Then, a decade from now, I'll have to find something else to write about.

WinMag Analyst Cheryl Currid is president of Houston-based Currid & Company, a research and consulting firm. Contact Cheryl in the "Windows at Work" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe. To find her E-Mail ID Click Here

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