According to a Work Trend Index special report from Microsoft, 80 per cent of the world’s workforce is made up of frontline workers. These people work directly with customers and are the public face of the organisations they represent.
Technology-based tools can help reduce the burden for frontline workers and Kyndryl and Microsoft are collaborating to help organisations deploy solutions that enable their employees to be more productive and collaborative.
Ryan Treacy, global digital workplace solutions leader for Microsoft 365 and Power Platform at Kyndryl, believes that the right tools can have a long-term effect, stating that “the frontline worker experience is impacted by the technology that they use, which in turn impacts the larger team and the perception of the organisation.”
In short, frontline workers who are being supported in their role are more likely to then go above and beyond for their customers, leaving a positive impact that results in brand loyalty.
However, the investment required to properly equip frontline workers with these tools is sometimes met with hesitancy.
“There’s a maximum that organisations want to spend for the sake of saving money and I think that that can lead to missed opportunities,” says Noel Pennington, director of partner strategy for Microsoft Cloud for Retail at Microsoft. “If there are tools and technologies available that allow your workforce to function better, that will always be a good investment.”
It is also important for organisations to focus on exactly what is required by the frontline workforce and ensure they are getting the most out of their money.
“Licensing is key because ultimately, that’s where the costs pile up,” explains Treacy. “If an organisation is spending $40 a month on a license but is only utilising 20 per cent of it, then it is not as good a use of resources compared to using 90, or even 100, per cent.
“Frontline workers will typically only use Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Power Apps, SharePoint and OneDrive. If we can pull back organisations using enterprise licences and push them back into frontline worker licences, then the money that the business recoups can be then spent on other endeavours that improve the frontline worker experience.”
For example, Power Apps help organisations to build applications that can be used by their frontline workers for a variety of purposes.
“If a stock checker is visiting different stores, an app can check them in through geolocation tagging and the employee can then update stock information directly onto their device, which is automatically sent back to the relevant channels,” says Treacy. “This allows workers to visit multiple stores in one day without having to communicate over fax and email or needing to return to head office to report back in person.”
When developing these digital solutions, organisations must be aware of the generational diversity that may be present across the employee base.
“Someone who is 60 years old and still working in retail may not be as technically efficient as someone who is in their 20s,” says Pennington. “You have to make sure that your applications work for the lowest common denominator.”
It is also important for organisations to consider the accessibility needs of their workforce, for example by providing adjustments for those who are colour blind or text-to-speech support. Kyndryl can help organisations develop their apps based on the needs of the users.
“We have our own accessibility guidelines, but we also use the built-in tools that Microsoft provides for Power Platform as well as an accessibility checker that highlights elements such as colour and missing captions.” says Treacy. “We can also bring in a user interface expert to design the app in a way that works for your employees. Ultimately, if your app has been designed correctly, you shouldn’t need to provide any additional training.”
With the growing popularity of artificial intelligence, retailers are increasingly expecting that the technology will help them to reduce the burden for workers.
“At Microsoft, we’re doing a lot of great work in generative AI, and whilst a lot of retailers may see this and want to get involved, what they first need to consider is the potential use cases and the return on investment that will be generated,” says Pennington.
Treacy agrees, stating: “Right now, the best use of AI for frontline workers is through Microsoft Copilot Studio. This allows organisations to develop chat bots that can be used by employees to ask questions such as ‘where can I find this item in the stock room?’”
Organisations that are unsure whether they are ready for AI can also take part in Kyndryl’s Microsoft 365 Copilot envisioning workshop, which helps them to determine the steps they need to take to start implementing AI, develop a plan for improving skills and address concerns and potential risk factors.
“We rely on organisations like Kyndryl to bridge the gap for organisational change,” says Pennington. “If an organisation implements a technology and it doesn’t work as expected, then Kyndryl can step in and help.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.