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Microsoft says first-line workers are underused in digital transformation
Tue, 26th Sep 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Microsoft has released new survey research which suggests some workers who interact with customers or patients feel they are still being left out of the loop when it comes to information availability surrounding digital transformation.

The online survey of 1,390 working adults was commissioned by Microsoft and completed by research firm, YouGov in early September 2017.

The research reveals that only 21% of first-line workers are currently involved in digital transformation initiatives, with a further 33% not involved but would like to be.

The survey found that 67% of first-line workers agreed that the ability to work closely with automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled systems was key to developing a successful modern workforce, while 66% feel that automation can make processes more flexible.

It also reveals that 77% of employees – both customer-facing first-line workers and managers – believe that digital transformation and technology are significant issues for every organisation.

Microsoft says that underusing or not considering first-line workers in digital transformation activities will prove detrimental to business and that a focus on these employees should drive the next wave of digital transformation.

Ian Heard, Microsoft Australia general manager of digital workplace and collaboration says, “There's obviously room for improvement in all sectors and all scales of business, and by engaging first-line workers from the get-go, enterprises will be better positioned for success.

“Organisations that engage first-line workers in their digital transformation initiatives – ensuring that these programs are inclusive, simple and effective, supporting first-line creativity and teamwork while preserving enterprise and employee security – will be better placed to succeed with their strategic priorities,“ he says.

“Digital transformation is powerful but everyone needs access. First-line workers are the key to the next wave of successful digital transformation and sustained competitiveness – they must be part of the program.

Transforming customer experience was ranked as the number one strategic priority by respondents (22 %) followed by achieving above-average profitability and revenue growth (18 %) and digital transformation (10 %).

Microsoft says while there's clear appetite for technology-led reform across all employee categories, first-line workers – the people who engage with customers directly – feel they are largely underused in many digital transformation projects.

The research also revealed 74% of all employees believe the culture of a company starts with its first-line workers.

84% of first-line workers also agreed that technology can help streamline processes, while 82% say technology is key to unleashing efficiencies, while 62% of first-line workers want to work with intelligent automated systems.

Heard adds, “As rote work is increasingly performed by machines, human interaction and knowledge-based expertise will become more important to first-line workers.

“They'll use technology to collaborate, to exercise greater creative and strategic freedom, and to bring real value to the work they perform.

The survey also shows that 36% of first-line workers say their organisation is not effective when it comes to communicating information about such initiatives, while 39 % don't have a clear idea of what their organisation is doing with digital technology.

First-line workers also feel excluded from digital transformation initiatives, with almost two-thirds (61%) saying they don't yet have an active and participatory role in how these technologies are deployed.

Enterprise knowledge workers were among the first employees to be impacted by digital transformation programs, and they're already benefiting from cloud computing, mobile productivity platforms and other digital technologies that increase workplace flexibility.

The survey focused on four industry sectors – health, retail, financial services and manufacturing – and reveals some clear sectoral differences.

Financial services and retail personnel, for example, proved most optimistic in terms of the way technology was impacting their relationship with customers, while manufacturing workers had a less rosy outlook.

In healthcare, there was a clear perception gap, as 67% of managers said technology was having a positive impact on customer service but only 57% of first-line workers, such as nurses, agreed.

What is less contentious among either group of workers is the potential of technology to enhance the working lives of first-line personnel, managers and customers.