Digital Employee is a term which has been used a lot recently. I know the key components are social enterprise, connected enterprise and mobile workforce; however I must admit I was struggling to truly understand what it means for me and my clients.
Then, last weekend I spent time with my father and brothers who run a family business and it started to resonate with me what digital employee really means for them.
My father and brothers own a small commercial decorating firm. They employ a number of people whose job requires them to travel across the UK to decorate premises. On my visit my brother received a call from a foreman panicking because he was not confident that a decorator on site would be finished in line with the agreed deadline. Upon investigation it transpired that the employee was finding it difficult to judge the time it was going to take him to complete the job.
My brother immediately used his iPad to download the job specification and then used FaceTime to perform a real time walk through of the progress made to date and the outstanding tasks. Through this collaboration my brother was able to work out the expected time and give his expectations to the employee. The employee now comfortable with the estimations felt confident to return to the foreman and provide a more accurate estimation. Social and connected enterprise tools were used to support a rapid solution design – real time – with the employee then able to provide immediate feedback to the customer.
In days gone by my father or brothers were required to be present on the majority of jobs to maintain the customer relationship and avoid any delays. But through investment into new tools (iPads / BYOD/ document sharing etc) they are now equipped to manage their mobile workforce remotely therefore allowing a greater spread across their portfolio.
My family’s employees have been expected to learn new skills not only in use of the technology, but they also are now empowered to be more self-sufficient in their delivery through estimating progress and raising any risks and issues on site with the customer/foreman.
What this means is that even if employees are technically very proficient at decorating, if they are not able to develop these new skills, their days will be numbered in this business. 
As a result of ‘empowerment at the front line’ the business has been able to grow by making best use of the management capabilities and not being distracted by management of all local issues. The concept of empowerment at the front line is described in lots of detail in the book ‘Power to the edge by Alberts and Hayes.
SME decorating businesses are not my typical client base, but I began to think about what digital employee actually means for me and for my clients:
Social enterprise:

  • Training has taken a big step forwards in the use of gamification and augmented reality to provide a practical way of learning something new. YSL x Google Glass uses Google glasses to teach customers how to apply make-up; Rolls Royce has used head worn displays for engine maintenance; and Skills2Learn is supporting a number of clients especially within the utilities sectors in designing and delivering virtual reality training
  • Global communication and collaboration can now be easily accessed using one of the numerous conference call/screen sharing/video conference/smart board facilities
  • Company listening tools provide the platform for all employees have a voice via two way communications

Connected enterprise:

  • An organisation can more rapidly and efficiently liaise with customers and partners using tools such as shared information bases. For example in an HR BPO environment it is necessary that the outsourced supplier is able to access the same, real time employee data required to effectively support the organisation. The employee data could be held for example in SAP, Oracle, Taleo, SumTotal, it may be accessed via a remote platform such as Citrix and transactions could be supported and managed via a ticketing and workflow management tool provided by companies such as Pega, eNate and Newgen.  

Mobile workforce:

  • The lives and experiences of a mobile workforce are enhanced by providing them with the tools and platforms which allow them to access information in real time and from any location. This may be via a mobile workforce management tool which enables management to assess, plan and control the deployment of resources based on the job types and priorities. An example of this is Oracle’s ‘Utilities Mobile Workforce Management’ tool

After reading about some of the exciting opportunities and the benefits of implementing tools that support a digital employee, I was alarmed to read that a large percentage of these tools are not used after being implemented. The key challenge is to ensure that the digital employee transformation is designed with the user outcomes in mind. The focus should be that a digital task should not be more difficult to use than the traditional approach to the same task.
People are increasingly more digitally savvy in their home life; now the challenge is for employers to embed the same digital experience in an employee’s work life.