Editors love a good headline and applying the “gimmick” label to an Office 365 application, as Jasper Oosterveld did in his piece “Delve Analytics: A Gimmick or Real Business Value”, certainly drew my attention. It also created a desire to respond. My issue with the article is that I don’t think it is a fair representation of the value that Delve Analytics can deliver both on a personal and business level.
It’s natural that people focus on email analysis, as Jasper did, because so much of the interpersonal communication that flows within companies is via email. However, although it can be interesting to understand how many messages you send in a week, or the volume of correspondence between you and someone else, or even how quickly other people respond to your messages, this information is not going to make you much more effective in your work than you are today.
The gems in Delve Analytics lie elsewhere. Take the analysis of meetings for example. I can’t think of a single person who perks up at the prospect of attending another corporate meeting, especially those that are seemingly organized for the sole purpose to acquaint group members with each other every week. Yet we all go along to these meetings to listen to boring status updates that we ignore because our attention is distracted by the arrival of new mail on mobile devices or laptops. Meanwhile, corporate politics proceed as the more politically astute in the organization figure out what are the right meetings to attend in order to get noticed by the bosses.
In short, many corporate meetings are useless in terms of getting things done, apart of course from providing attendees with the opportunity to snaffle some free corporate coffee and donuts.
The folks at Volometrix, a company specializing in the analysis of how to help companies become more efficient that was bought by Microsoft in September 2015, accumulated a huge amount of data about how time and money is wasted at corporate meetings. Too few people ask whether a meeting is really required, if everyone who attends needs to be there, or if the meeting is too long. Status meetings are scheduled for the same time slot on a weekly basis without wondering if any useful information is ever imparted to attendees or if the same outcome could be achieved another way, such as sending a one-page update on Monday morning.
Although you might not realize it, the hours wasted in meetings are a very real drag on corporate resources. Consider a weekly status update for a department of fifteen people. If the meeting lasts an hour, it occupies fifteen hours that could be used more productively on other tasks. Assuming that the meeting is held 48 times a year, that’s 720 hours of status updates. At $50 per person hour, that’s $36,000 annually, not counting the cost of coffee and donuts. Reducing the meeting to a half-hour per week by forcing people to be more concise and precise in their contributions or moving to a two-weekly cycle leads to an immediate return for the company. Now imagine doing the same thing for every meeting that involves more than ten people.
The calendar analysis of Delve Analytics doesn’t tell you how to save money, but it prompts you into thinking about just how much time you spend in meetings each week. If people are coached on how to use Delve Analytics for this purpose, it’s easy to see how its cost can be recouped. Take a look at Figure 1, which is real data describing a recent week of meeting “bliss” that I endured. Apart from having to spend 18.3 hours in meetings, a couple of other points are worth noting.
First, I didn’t have control over my diary for the week in question. Only two hours were scheduled by me. The rest were meetings organized by others that I attended. The question that arises is whether I needed to attend all the meetings? The next point is that I was multitasking for ten of the hours spent in meetings. In other words, I was doing other stuff during those meetings instead of paying full attention. Sometimes you have to send a few messages during a meeting, but I was not fully committed to roughly 60% of the total meeting time during the week, which again poses the question whether I should have been at those meetings. Third, a lot of the meetings were long (over two hours). Would those meetings have been more effective for all concerned if they only lasted an hour?
Figure 1: Too many meetings?
So much for saving money for the company; what about the person? Well, personal time is our most precious resource and time spent working on company business outside normal business hours is often not compensated for in terms of cash or time off. It can be hard to avoid working outside the regular nine-to-five working day because of project demands, the need to work with international colleagues, or just the need to get something done. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea to understand exactly how many hours are absorbed in this fashion. Delve Analytics provides that insight.
It’s not intended that you take the data produced by Delve Analytics and use it to have a difficult conversation with your boss about how you’re being worked to death. Instead, the idea is that if you know how much time you’re working, you will be better able to control that time and hopefully restrict some activities to get some time back. Looking at Figure 2, spending an extra 15.2 hours per week on after-hours activity might be an indication that perhaps my work is not well organized because I obviously can’t get it done during the working day.
Figure 2: After hours
It’s worth underscoring the point that the data used by Delve Analytics is personal and is not shared with managers or other users. You see the analysis generated for your personal dashboard and that’s it. Comparisons against others in the company are done on the basis of anonymized data. It’s not a case of comparing one specific individual against another.
It’s also worthwhile saying that much of the data used by Delve Analytics exists in user mailboxes or calendars. You could, if you wanted to, extract the data yourself and have a fine time analyzing it in Excel or another tool. The value of having computers do this is that they’re more persistent and dependable when analyzing data over a sustained period.
Delve Analytics is not perfect. Its data is too skewed towards Exchange Online activities today and ignore the work done by people with other aspects of Office 365, such as working with documents in a SharePoint site, chatting with colleagues using Skype for Business, or viewing content from the Office 365 Video Portal. But that data is being accumulated in the Microsoft Graph and will be analyzed in the future to add even more value to Delve Analytics.
Applications like Delve Analytics are tools. You can opt to use them or not, or even build your own version if you are so inclined. One thing’s for sure: Delve Analytics is not a gimmick. Real business and personal results can be extracted from the analysis. The question really is whether those who receive the analysis through their personal dashboards are wise enough to use the data to make real and effective change.
Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna.
Delve Analytics is available as part of the Office 365 E5 plan or as a $4/month add-on per user for the other enterprise plans.
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