Many years ago, I was discussing a market forecasting project I was writing with the principal analyst at the firm I worked with. I made a newbie comment about market sizing when you multiply by large workforce numbers, to which he replied sarcastically, “Any small number gets really large when you multiply it by a very large number. Even the annual cost of toilet paper.” Large numbers seem to have the ability to make us think less rationally—perhaps because the reality of the large number is almost impossible to visualise—and if the person quoting you the large number is trying to sell you something, the implication of lowered rationality due to the large number can make it easier to drive the conversation to conversion. A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft referred to a Gartner study that says “in 2021, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.” Those are large numbers. I like what Microsoft did next, and that is to take it down a couple of notches to something a business leader could more easily relate to. One of the studies that Microsoft sponsored concluded that “the quantifiable productivity and efficiency gains were estimated over four years to be $36.6 million [for a composite global organization with 8,500 knowledge workers].” This was on the basis of those knowledge workers using five specific AI capabilities in Office 365.
The above image is copied from here.
But in many ways, even that’s a large number that an individual looks at and says “that’s nice, but whatever.” What if we take it down to a directly practical level for one of those knowledge workers?
Without attempting to leverage “efficiency gains from streamlined data analysis in Excel” above (sorry Microsoft), a non-AI spreadsheet leads to this conclusion: a saving of 9.57 minutes per knowledge worker per day, or a direct financial cost saving of $4.78 per knowledge worker per day. In terms of annual salary for a knowledge worker, the annual saving is slightly less than 2% of their direct non-fully-burdened cost.
10 minutes a day. 2% improvement opportunity per year. On one hand, we’re tempted to dismiss such a small number; only 10 minutes a day? On the other hand, there’s the principle of small actions done repeatedly that compound to achieve something great over a long time. But it completely depends which small actions you take in those 10 minutes a day. Do you engage in mindless web surfing? Scroll through your email without doing anything? Do you read a chapter of an important book? Do you call someone at your firm for catchup and check in? If the AI capabilities in Office 365 will actually free up 10 minutes a day for you, invest them wisely. Don’t flush them down the toilet.
A larger question also has to be asked: can you just stop doing 3-6 small tasks per day that take 10 minutes each, and then redirect all of those 30-60 minutes into one high priority, an important but not urgent project that would truly transform your career over the next 2-5 years?
By all means, use the new AI capabilities in Office 365 to help you get better. But … don’t relegate the objective of getting better solely to time saved via AI in Office 365. It’s your servant, not your master. And as you are the master, remember that AI is only one of many levers available to you to get better, and some of the most profound levers having nothing to do with Office 365 at all, such as extreme clarity on purpose and intent, high engagement in the task at hand, and productive relationships with co-workers.
To know more about how to improve personal and team productivity using Office 365 tools, read the blog “When to use what in Office 365”.