The Business-Technology Weave

Jul 12 2010   8:24AM GMT

The Point of Diminishing Return…

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott



In today’s austere, cost-cutting environment, businesses must take care:  Cutting back too much can hamper business.  Sometimes, what may be a good idea is taken to extremes, and the returns not only diminish, they have the opposite effect and begin to cost the organization money.


I was speaking with a medical surveyor a few days ago.  He and his colleagues survey physician office laboratories all over the U.S. – many doctors have their own labs right at their offices; they must be accredited in order to meet Federal and State regulations.  This particular medical surveyor’s organization has a proprietary program that collects and assesses information in ascertaining:  Whether lab equipment is properly calibrated; if medicine is appropriately stocked, stored and accounted for; if lab personnel are current and have appropriate credentials, and a whole host of other things. 


Formerly, the program collecting all of this info was hosted on a typical laptop with robust processing power, large screen, and a nice sized keyboard.  Input screens for various aspects of the survey were largely available with no, or minimal, scrolling. 


Somewhere along the line, the business-half of their business-technology weave decided to cut costs:  Mini-PCs were procured, eventually replacing all larger-size laptops.  They have an 8.9” display, but the wide-screen aspect ratio is such that an extreme amount of scrolling is now necessary to perform the surveys.  Also, and I can attest to this, the keyboard is nothing like my larger laptop – I don’t know if the keys are slightly smaller, or if the action was just unfamiliar to me, but I couldn’t type with the same speed and accuracy – and I’m an extremely good typist.  In reducing the size of the mini-PC, some of the keys are not oriented in the typical places as on a standard laptop keyboard – that was something I didn’t like.  Even worse, the pad for the cursor was very small – and the cursor frequently jumped all over the screen.


Informally, the surveyor estimated that his productivity was impacted by as much as 25%.  He doesn’t survey as many labs in a given week, and he feels his schedule (flying to various states and doing a circuit of labs) has been negatively affected.  His fellow surveyors report similar results.


I suggested to him that the cost savings of a mini-PC vis-à-vis standard laptops may be outweighed by more flights, dispatch of more surveyors, and a whole host of associated costs in maintaining the necessary schedule of labs for survey in a given period.  In fact, and in response to this, he mentioned a turn-over and shortage of surveyors, and a gap due to the necessary training period for new hires of surveyors.


What’s necessary here is an empirical study for the impacts – but I can tell you this:  mini-PCs must have their place.  People do buy them and presumably they survive in the market to someone’s benefit.  But perhaps their small profile, their small “real estate” footprint, and their light weight, is better suited for “returns” in cramped quarters, for example.  Bending their use to more general usage may not provide the intended return – it may provide a so-called negative return:  Errors, frustration, and reduced productivity.


Water is good for you, and necessary to life; but drink too much of it and you die of water intoxication.  Everything has a point of diminishing return:  When making “improvements” – exercise common sense and… measure for true returns on investment. 



July 12th 2010:  On this day in 1864, George Washington Carver was born.



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