Many people are familiar with app fatigue, that annoying feeling when your smartphone screen is clogged with restaurant, store, news, and game apps that may or may not be used. Less noticed is the problem of employers overloading their workers with apps that allegedly help them do their jobs.
In the workplace context, an app can run on a smartphone, on the web, or locally on a desktop or laptop PC. So work apps include specific business-focused software like Workday for vacation and sick-day tracking, Concur for travel and expense account management, and Salesforce for sales tracking. And then there are the broader apps like Dropbox and Box (BOX) for cloud storage, and various Microsoft Office or Google Apps products for creating and tweaking documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
So, instead of making life (and work) easier—which is what apps are supposed to do—they can actually make finding information more difficult and thus crimp productivity.
New research, published Thursday, illustrates the problem of app overload in the workplace. After reading the survey, called “The False Promise of the App Economy” employers may want to rethink how many apps they deploy or offer a way to better corral all that siloed information.
The average business professional uses 9.4 apps at work, according to the survey of 881 business professionals worldwide conducted on behalf of Harmon.ie, an Israeli software company with U.S. headquarters in Boston. IT workers, have it worse, at least if you consider app proliferation to be a bad thing—they use 10.4 apps, on average.
Perhaps most surprisingly, 50% of respondents said they spend a huge chunk of their working hours on email, saying they said they check their mailboxes five times— per hour! That’s an interesting tidbit since many analyst over the past decade have predicted that email would be dead by now.
Email is also the target of many new apps including the popular Slack workplace messaging service, and an array of would-be “Slack killers” like Microsoft Teams and Atlassian Stride, a brand new entry.
Nearly half of the survey’s respondents said they use apps that were not sanctioned by the IT department. These include Dropbox cloud storage and WhatsApp chat service, but also note-taking and project-tracking apps.
Quantifying lost productivity due to app glut is difficult, but the survey found that 351 out of 881 respondents, or 40%, said it took more than five minutes to find an early draft of a project they worked on. And, 120 (14%) said it took much longer than that.
Those complaints hint at the time lost to finding the correct information before employees can get to their meaningful work.
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Some caveats: Harmon.ie is a Microsoft Office 365 partner that specializes in helping customers find data wherever it is and bring it to one place, so these findings clearly boost that case. The survey itself was conducted for Harmon.ie by Fifty Five and Five, a London-based a market research firm that focuses on the Microsoft (MSFT) partner ecosystem.
Having said that, these results sound credible. They also mirror what research firm 451 Research has found on its own, said 451 senior analyst Raul Castañon-Martinez.
Harmon.ie competes in easing app confusion with companies like RedKix and Astro Technology, he said. He also listed Microsoft (MSFT) Teams, Atlassian (TEAM) Stride as well as Google (GOOGL) GSuite, Cisco (CSCO) Spark, as competitors.
“Some use a streamlined aggregation of notifications for example,” Castañon-Martinez said. “Perhaps the closest one in their approach is Stride although interestingly they cover messaging and audio and video and conferencing but not email.”
Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst with Constellation Research, isn’t so sure that putting all the data needed by an employee into one place will necessarily solve the problem.
“While people say they would prefer to have all of their applications in one window, they may not realize that could lead to even more information overload than switching between applications. It’s not the single window that is the magic, it’s the context and the ability to filter and focus on the right information at the right time that leads to improvements.,” he said via email.
Note: (September 14, 2017 1:51 p.m. EDT) This story was updated to reflect that Harmon.ie is based in Israel. It’s U.S. headquarters are in Boston.