In a recent post, I discussed the financial dimension of digital equipment for frontline workers.
I am only taking the final table, which gives the full cost of a front-end solution, namely a smartphone and universal digital applications.
The monthly cost per person is between 8 € and 25 €.
I ended by saying that the financial dimension was the easiest to solve and that the management dimensions are the most complex to solve.
This is the theme of this post.
The challenges posed by the digital equipment of Frontline Workers
Preliminary remark: what I write in this post does not concern your company!
At your company, everything is perfect, impeccable and the frontline workers have the best digital tools in the world.
It is in others that we encounter the problems that I am presenting here:
- In most companies, frontline workers have no say in the choice of digital tools that are made available to them.
- In most companies, managers have no idea of the reality of the activities of frontline workers.
- In most companies, IT and digital teams buy or develop digital solutions for frontline workers without making any effort to go to the field and try to understand what their real expectations are.
- In most companies, equipping all white-collar workers with a high-end PC and a smartphone is a no-brainer when too often we refuse to provide frontline workers with a business smartphone, forcing them to use paper forms, in 2022!
In all these companies, this digital divide between white-collar workers and frontline workers must end, and soon.
How do you do that? By asking the leaders to take the problem in hand and… solve it.
The good news: it’s possible, quickly.
Top Down – Bottom Up Approach
The proposed approach has already been successfully followed by a small number of innovative companies.
It responds to the four challenges I identified in the previous paragraph and is based on a double movement, “Top-Down” and “Bottom-up”.
For the top-down part, the management teams are responsible for driving a clear strategy, with several objectives:
- Make bridging the digital divide between white-collar and frontline workers a priority.
- Provide digital tools that encourage collaboration between these two populations and make it easier to share information.
- Choose tools that guarantee the stability of the proposed solutions and avoid the proliferation of “Shadow IT” as it was known for white collar workers.
- Put security and data protection at the heart of your concerns.
For the field teams, the bottom-up approach meets other objectives:
- Accept the fact that the primary objective of digital solutions is not to control the activity of frontline workers, but to make them more efficient in their jobs.
- Those who do, know. It’s the teams on the field who are best positioned to determine which digital tools can help them in their operations.
- Understand that the variety of activities required of frontline workers is much greater than leaders realize.
- Build mutual trust between frontline workers and white collar workers.
- By putting universal, frontline digital tools into the hands of frontline workers, they will be able to imagine dozens of simple, high value-added use cases that will help them in their daily activities.
Leaders as actors
I’ve identified four families of leaders whose roles are priorities to ensure the success of a digital transformation at the service of frontline workers.
The order in which I present them is not random; it goes from the most important to the least important:
- HR, Human Resources Department.
- Operations managers, where the frontline workers work.
- CDIO, Chief Digital Information Officer
- CEO, Chief Executive Officer
On the other hand, the order of the interventions is not the same: HR, CDIO, CEO and operations managers. This is the one I will follow in my analysis.
Role of the Human Resources Department
When we talk about frontline workers, we are referring to people. It makes sense that a company’s HR department is at the forefront of orchestrating the disappearance of the internal digital divide between white-collar workers and frontline workers.
In France, frontline workers, the people who cannot telework, represent about 60% of employees. This varies greatly depending on the sector of activity.
Bringing frontline workers into the digital world, regardless of their initial training, or often their lack of training, means investing in the ability of these men and women to progress in their skills and their contribution to the company.
This is one of the most beautiful missions that an innovative HR can take on.
With the full agreement of the Group’s CEO, the approach she is pushing for taking into account the expectations of frontline workers is exceptional in its scope and the innovations it brings.
Managing career development, in particular for cashiers whose numbers are expected to decline, putting more employees in contact with customers, and equipping 22,000 employees with smartphones are some of the most spectacular actions pushed by Sandra Hazelart.
French companies need many more exceptional HRs too!
Role of the Chief Digital Information Officer
When it comes to IT and digital technology serving the field, it is essential that CDIO teams be involved from the beginning of the project.
In the case of frontline uses for frontline workers, their roles are primarily oriented towards infrastructure.
Why? The uses will be imagined in a bottom-up approach by the frontline teams, without the CDIO teams having to deal with them.
The CDIO must propose a table digital platform that will serve as a support for all the uses deployed by and for the frontline workers.
Once again, the B I S D (Business, Infrastructure, Support, Data, article in French) model that I have been proposing for years applies very well to the uses of frontline workers:
- I = Cloud infrastructure for power and sustainability.
- S = Supporting uses, which are the front-end applications.
- D = Usage independent database.
- B = Business uses, for specific business applications of field teams.
CDIO must ensure:
- The coherence of all the uses that will be imagined by the frontline workers.
- That these uses will not generate a new wave of shadow IT as it happened with white collar workers.
- That the proposed solution will not create a new “data silo”.
- That exchanges between existing solutions for white-collar workers and those built for frontline workers will be possible, whenever necessary.
It is with all these objectives in mind from day one and working in close collaboration with the IT and digital teams of innovative companies like Terega that Wizy.io built the WizyVision front-end solution.
WizyVision has everything to meet the expectations of a CDIO:
- Based on GCP, the Google Cloud Platform: guarantees unlimited power and the ability to deploy solutions on all continents.
- DAC, Digital Asset Center: the only professional database in the world built to manage and secure all photo content created by frontline workers.
- Frontspace: mobile application for frontline workers.
- ML Studio: allows to build Machine Learning applications in No-Code mode, allowing to recognize specific business objects.
- API: all WizyVision functionalities are open via API to exchange, in both directions, with existing applications.
Yes, it is possible in 2022 for a CDIO to quickly propose a modern and sustainable technological platform that allows the construction of dozens of use cases for the frontline workers.
Role of the Chief Executive Officer
It is classic to say that any action in a company must be initiated by the CEO. In practice, it is illusory to ask a CEO to be the conductor of any transformation; they do not have the time to do so.
On this major project of eliminating the digital divide in the field, as on many others, the CEO must be a facilitator and coordinator of the actions carried out by the managers more directly involved.
Role of operations managers
The frontline workers work in these operational departments, whether in industry, transport, logistics, distribution, hospitality, health, construction or agriculture.
I also include in the business departments the first-level managers, who are in direct contact with the frontline workers. They are the ones who have the most capacity to drive the operational digital transformation of the frontline workers.
The objectives of these business units are clear:
- Increase the skills of their frontline workers.
- Increase their efficiency.
- Accept that the “bottom-up” approach is the most effective.
To achieve this, the most effective way is to carry out an initial experimentation operation, by sampling:
- Put in the hands of the most representative group of employees possible universal digital tools.
- Ask them to find the first use cases.
- Synthesize best practices from the field.
The company can then industrialize the distribution of digital solutions and generalize the use cases identified as the most relevant to all employees.
As this diagram shows, new use cases will constantly emerge, as employees appropriate these frontline tools.
Illustration of the approach on a concrete case
To illustrate this approach, I propose a concrete example: a company in the distribution sector that employs 4,000 frontline workers, spread over 150 points of sale, 100 supermarkets and 50 city-center convenience stores.
What are the stages of the experimentation phase on the digital equipment of the frontline workers in this company?
- Select 20 supermarkets and 10 mini-markets, as different as possible in location, size and market.
- Choose 200 voluntary and motivated employees, 5% of the workforce, in these 30 points of sale, with the most varied profiles and activities possible.
- Equip these 200 people with basic frontline tools: a smartphone and an application such as WizyVision.
- Give them free rein, for 15 days, to find and document relevant use cases that would help them in their daily activities.
- Then make an inventory of all the proposed use cases.
The following figures are an estimate, but are based on already completed projects of this type:
- Average number of use cases proposed by each of the 200 employees: 4.
- Total number of proposed use cases: 200 x 4 = 800.
- Similar use cases will be proposed by these 200 collaborators. Assuming that the redundancy rate of the proposed use cases is 70%, we will still have identified 240 different use cases!
It is then possible to move on to the industrialization phase with the certainty that it will be a success for the company:
- Equip the 4,000 employees with a smartphone and the relevant use cases. Depending on the business, we can decide:
- Equip the individual with a personal smartphone.
- The provision of a shared smartphone, especially for people who take turns working on the same jobs.
- Present, in small groups, business by business, to all employees the proposed use cases. The employees who have identified the use cases will be responsible for promoting and demonstrating them.
- Ask all the employees who are now equipped to propose use cases that had not yet been identified. This should quickly generate at least a hundred new use cases.
At the end of this two-step process, which can be completed in less than a year, 350 simple, high value-added applications will have been deployed for the 4,000 employees in the 150 sales outlets.
Summary: reducing the digital divide for frontline workers, a great management challenge for the next 5 years
There are 2,700 million of them in the world, and they are dramatically under-equipped with digital tools. Frontline workers are asking you, the managers, to finally think about them.
CEOs, HR Directors, CDIOs, business leaders, you have a strong responsibility, a moral obligation: to ensure that, by 2025, there will no longer be a digital divide between the white-collar workers and the frontline workers in your companies.
This is my fifth post on this essential topic, and here are the first four as a reminder:
- Problem: after the white collars, priority to the FLW, Front Line Workers.
- How: after a computer for every white collar, a smartphone for every FLW.
- Why: digital divides.
- Finances: costs of digital solutions: white collar and field teams.
- Management: this post.
All that’s left is for you to take action.