Which Comes First: Tech-Savvy Workforce or Human-Savvy Tech?

Image credit: iStockphoto/metamorworks

The human workforce is overwhelmed with technologies.

In The State of Digital Adoption 2021, a Harvard Business Review (HBR) Analytic Services study, 82% of corporate executives said their employees interact with at least four digital touchpoints daily. These touchpoints include digital platforms, software, apps, or websites.

And it doesn’t stop there. More new technologies are on the way, with 56% saying that their employees are expected to master three or more new digital touchpoints every year.

The results are not surprising. With enterprises progressing toward digitalization at breakneck speeds and pivoting to hybrid working, the human workforce is increasingly asked to be tech-savvy.

“Companies have more technology, and that technology is more powerful,” said Andrew Young, managing director at Accenture. In the HBR report, he stated businesses are often “not scaling or using it (technology) well in a way that works for their people or transforms the business.”

Tech-savvy workforce vs. human-savvy tech

Young is right. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on multiple digital initiatives, not many businesses realize the full potential of their digital asset. HBR stated only 20% of the executives rated their transformation strategies as effective.

So, should the human workforce be more tech-savvy, or technologies become more human-savvy?

“The thing about digital tools is that some are designed well for end-users; [they] are simple and easy to adopt,” said Young. “Others are inherently more complex, some are used infrequently, and some just aren’t well-designed.”

He added the adoption of each digital touchpoint was a behavior change. When the resistance to change and the cost of retraining overshadowed the benefits of digital change, enterprises would fail to scale their digital initiatives.

“And they are failing not because of the wrong strategy or bad technology — they are failing because of poor, and mostly incomplete, execution,” stated the HBR report.

The employee experience in using these digital systems is paramount to achieving digital success, according to Sandie Overtveld, vice president and general manager for APAC at WalkMe, a digital adoption platform (DAP) provider. He added while choosing the right technology is critical for successful implementation, ignoring the human element that propels this forward comes at great peril.

Enable human-savvy tech with DAP

“You can build the greatest system in the world, but getting someone to use it is a whole other battle,” pointed out Kristopher Clark, head of digital adoption at ServiceNow.

In the HBR report, Clark said that winning that battle could be easier with digital adaption platforms (DAPs). Aiming to help people understand and use different digital tools, WalkMe’s Overtveld said DAPs sit on top of software or applications like a glass layer to provide customized user guidance.

He added that one of WalkMe’s products, ActionBot, uses AI/ML technologies to provide technology support and information to users. Unlike a chatbot, ActionBot can “directly take the user where they want to go, and even perform a requested task to save more of the user’s time.”

DAPs supplement existing support structures to reduce the burden on IT support, lower user resistance to new technology, increase user satisfaction and gain deeper insight into the organization.

Overtveld said DAP also tracks the use of different digital touchpoints and analyzes anonymized data to understand the organization’s adoption status to enable swift resolution of issues and efficient usage of digital products.

Empower the modern workforce with democratizing tech

On top of making technology more accessible, some businesses are taking this one step further to boost employee experience and digital success by democratizing technologies.

Democratization of technology was listed by Gartner as the top 10 strategic technology trends in 2020.  The research firm explained it means providing people with easy access to technical or business expertise without extensive and costly training.

It focuses on four key areas — application development, data and analytics, design, and knowledge — and is often referred to as “citizen access,” which has led to the rise of citizen data scientists, citizen programmers, and more. Forbes Technology Council also listed automation and the rise of citizen developers as a critical trend in 2022.

“Employees want to be noticed, to grow, and earn new opportunities,” said John Deeb, country manager for ANZ at Workato, a low-code platform, and automation provider. “By automating low-value, mundane tasks, staff are given the opportunity to make an impact and deliver bigger, better business outcomes.”

Empower the workforce to take control of their career

Deeb added that Workato provides integration with major enterprise applications to enable workflow automation. To empower more “citizen access” to technologies, the company also offers online courses.

“(These courses) can be completed in hours - not days or weeks,” he said.  “This is crucial. As we know, the modern workforce is incredibly time-poor, so enabling them to quickly learn new skills that will enhance their day-to-day operations and improve productivity and output is key to reskilling talent.”

Democratizing technologies also helps Asian businesses to be more resilient.

“COVID-19 is an opportunity to innovate and redesign their business models. Leading APAC enterprises are investing in automation to enhance business resilience and recover faster from the pandemic,” said Allen Teng, founder and managing director for APJ at Workato.

This was how the Singapore HR team at Cycle & Carriage (C&C), a leading Southeast Asia automotive group, took advantage of Workato to support employee engagement during the pandemic.

Teng said C&C staff could book different free passes to visit tourist attractions with their families as part of its employee reward program. But the original manual processes and pandemic disruption created a massive backlog of bookings. The HR team built a Corporate Pass Booking Bot to automate the process, allowing C&C staff to reserve passes, check their booking status and generate a confirmation letter, all in a few clicks.

With the rise in low-code automation platforms, Teng said non-IT professionals could comfortably automate their business workflows and make a difference for their teams and companies.  The human-savvy technologies are empowering non-technical users to own their work processes and reimagine the way they work.

“While it’s not a silver bullet for business growth, democratizing the ability to automate will empower employees as they grow and scale with their organizations, build resilience and work towards quicker recovery,” Teng concluded.

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/metamorworks