If you glanced at the screen, it probably wouldn’t grab your attention: White space divided into rectangular modules showing pie charts and bar charts in a kind of muted neon color palette that calls to mind an old version of Excel, not a revolutionary piece of tech.
But in a business environment where big data is king, that’s exactly how North Texas-based Sapience Analytics pitches its product.
Executives who showed off the company’s “people analytics” platform on a recent morning say it’s a paradigm-shifting way for white-collar employers and employees alike to boost productivity by tracking how much time workers actually spend working — like a Fitbit for your job, only your bosses are using your results to evaluate you.
And they’re betting that major employers will see dollar signs, no matter how the interface looks.
“We really think we’re at the forefront of what’s going to be a multibillion-dollar industry,” Sapience CEO Brad Killinger said.
The U.S. — and Texas, especially — has in recent decades transformed from an economy where the biggest companies employed lots of people to make physical stuff to one where the biggest companies are snapping up young college grads by the thousands for desk jobs.
Sapience, buoyed by an investment by the financial giant Credit Suisse, recently moved its headquarters from India to the U.S. in hopes of tapping into that exploding corporate market.
Still, the seemingly inevitable growth of a business that quantifies the kind of work that has historically been subject to human judgment raises broader questions about the future of people in an automated world.
Are workers really more productive if they know their worth is measured largely in data points? And, on the flip side, if their work is too easily quantifiable, how soon will robots be able to do their jobs?
“The number is motivating,” said Tara S. Behrend, an associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology at George Washington University. “But the number only motivates the exact thing that it’s meant to count.”
On a desktop monitor, Sapience Global Marketing Vice President Khiv Singh clicked around a page of what the company calls its work Buddy tool.
“So what we’re trying to solve here is, where does my time go?” he said. He pulled up charts that showed when he started one of his days that week (7:30 a.m.) and when he ended it (9:21 at night).
“That doesn’t mean I had a 13-hour or 14-hour day — I actually only worked four hours and 11 minutes in that,” he said, showing how he could pinpoint exactly how much of that was spent on corporate work, marketing activities, phone calls and meetings.
“I spend one hour and one minute on doing marketing activities, I spent around two hours on corporate.”
The platform doesn’t require input from employees; it works “passively,” Singh explained, in the background, logging how long workers spend in various computer applications that are core for their job, like CRM programs, or how long they spend on phone calls.
Unlike some other employee surveillance products, Sapience doesn’t log keystrokes, scrape screens or otherwise track activity that’s marked private, executives said.
Killinger talked about the benefits for employees: Monitoring can build trust for workers who would prefer to work from home. Hard data showing a worker’s output can level the playing field for employees who may be less vocal about their accomplishments when it comes time to distribute bonuses or promotions.
Ultimately, though, the Sapience Buddy differs from a fitness tracker in one fundamental way: Self-improvement is an important but secondary selling point.
Managers can choose to use individual or aggregate time data correlated with output to assess a team’s work. And many of Sapience’s core customers are companies that have outsourced services.
David Antony, the Princeton, New Jersey-based CEO of the outsourcing firm Flatworld Solutions said about 300 of the company’s 2,000 employees have been on Sapience platforms for a couple of years.
“Initially employees were not too comfortable with it, because it felt like Big Brother looking over your shoulder,” he said. “But they quickly realized it was a tool they could use themselves.”
He said Sapience worked well for the company because it allowed Flatworld to measure different things, depending on the team.
And in any case, Killinger said, human workers will have to make the case for themselves from a productivity standpoint in the not-so-distant future.
“Because the competition is probably not the person interviewing down the street,” he said. “It’s theoretical, with the robots.”
Sapience was started by developers in India in 2009. Last year, Credit Suisse acquired 65 percent ownership of the company for “eight figures.”
Sapience says it has 85 customers around the world and partnerships with companies like Salesforce, which lists the Sapience People Analytics @Work platform on its enterprise app exchange for $200 per year.
The company recently announced it’s launching a new work-from-home platform.
Killinger said they expect to hit $20 million in revenue within two years.
Mike Davis, an economist with SMU’s Cox School of Business, said that as technology disrupts industries around the world, products that boost efficiency will be critical for keeping any workforce competitive — both against workers in other countries or machines.
The problem, he said, is that more and more jobs seem to fall into a gray area where measuring productivity has been tough.
“An accountant is certainly doing a job that’s hugely more complicated than putting lug nuts on a Volkswagen — they’re not creating an opera,” he said.