In 2020, Enterprises Will Unlock Hidden Value in Their Own Workforces

If 2019 was the year we identified the most acute challenges facing various industries — in the form of macroeconomic trends as well as industry-specific factors — 2020 will be the year we confront those issues.

For most companies, this looks like addressing a skills gap that grows at the same rate technology progresses. This is to say, in the tech industry, it’s a gap that grows quickly.

In this way, progress can be unforgiving, both to companies left searching for skilled labor and for workers who are left behind during these economic shifts. The consequences bleed through to the rest of the economy in the form of anemic productivity, shrinking revenue, and reduced customer satisfaction.

Some of these changes, like automation, are sweeping through the entire economy. Many leaders thought, somewhat conveniently, that white collar jobs would be insulated from the instability that would come to characterize lower-skilled labor — but white collar jobs might be just as vulnerable, according to new reports.

Permanent Transition

Automated programs now act as corporate recruiters, generating insights for market analysis firms, and executing high-frequency trades in finance — all functions of jobs that we understand to be well-paying, professional and, above all, safe (for now).

Clearly, there’s no class of workers excluded from the changes that are taking place. Artificial intelligence, the enabling technology behind automation, is forcing a broad economic realignment as firms compete to leverage its benefits and protect themselves from risk.

Technology always has been a differentiator, but the rate at which industry-changing innovations come to market is faster than ever before. As firms adopt new tech at corresponding rates to gain an edge on the competition, their workforces repeatedly are thrown into phases of transition that are beginning to feel permanent.

Companies with workforces small enough or agile enough to adapt can thrive. However, a status quo of permanent transition could exclude vast swaths of people from participating, especially in organizations with large, diversified business units.

Even organizations founded in the digital era with young, tech-savvy workforces aren’t excluded from the challenges that the current software environment presents to people at work.

An example of this is the rise of the gig economy workforce. Workers are distributed, they work independent schedules, and they establish highly varied work patterns. The flexibility and independence this offers can make an organization nimble and adaptable.

However, in order to derive full value of the potential benefits, workers need to engage with their digital tools in an efficient way. This is achievable only through training that is consistent and ongoing, as well as comprehensive and context-specific. It requires step-by-step digital guidance for application training and onboarding in the absence of a physical, centralized location to conduct training sessions.

As companies leverage a wider variety of business applications, an increased degree of guidance will be required, even as the trend toward remote and gig economy work continues.

To maintain the necessary level of efficiency, companies will need to remove as much friction from their employees’ workflows as possible, by creating seamless digital journey experiences.

These digital journey experiences will have to function across the extensive ecosystem of enterprise applications, and even within customized applications for particular business units to truly unlock the full productive potential of this new, impactful type of workforce.

One class of products that uniquely meets these needs is comprised of digital adoption solutions.

Digital Adoption Tools

Gartner recognized this category in 2019 because it saw that to ferry companies through “digital transformation” to a posture more responsive and adaptable to a digital economy, a new class of tools was required.

Similar to the way railroads developed to support an economic expansion that opened brand new markets, digital adoption solutions developed to support a technological revolution that has penetrated every corner of modern economic activity.

Just as railroads connect geographies — often closely tracking economic development and providing continuity of goods and people to support expanding markets — digital adoption solutions connect a company to the future version of itself, providing continuity, context and support. Because companies are changing constantly, this layer is now essential.

These solutions “are used to improve adoption of multiple tools across [an] organization, according to Gartner. They provide “a consistent user experience, eliminating in some cases manual entry.” They deliver “visually clear paths to complete tasks” across different applications, and some leverage AI to calibrate their advice to individual workers, offering contextual assistance at pain points unique to that user.

This foundation of automation and artificial intelligence, by which digital adoption solutions learn from users’ in-app behavior, also means a continually improving quality of guidance. Without any extra input from workers (beyond their normal workflows), they’ll receive a faster pace of better recommendations and next-best actions at key points, making decision making smooth and easy in areas that used to be bottlenecks.

The result is a software layer that unites disparate business applications, linking them from a usability standpoint so that even if business technologies are undergoing radical disruption, the adverse effect on workers using digital adoption solutions is minimal.

When employees feel confident with their tools — which is to say software, in many modern workplaces — they’re happier and more productive at work, research shows. Digital adoption solutions elevate the employee experience by removing software-based obstacles across all the business applications they use.

They automate routine tasks including queries, data entry, empty clicks and more, taking tedious but necessary actions off workers’ plates, relieving them of a burden. That can be a true difference-maker in an economy like today’s, where workers with the right skills are hard to find and retain.

This ties into another key element of digital adoption solutions: how they completely reorient the way people experience training at work. Instead of attending episodic, inconsistent sessions that remove them from their workflows and disrupt their days, employees learn in the flow of work.

The pace of digital transformation means that companies no longer have the luxury to conduct such in-person sessions — even if they were effective. Instead, digital adoption solutions provide constant in-application learning that’s contextual and interactive, iterating in real time to provide optimal guidance as individuals develop their unique processes.

This is crucial in the context of onboarding, as well. With workers changing jobs at record rates, onboarding new hires as quickly as possible and with minimal disruption is a key operational concern.

Digital adoption solutions offer these new hires constant guidance if they need it, whereas before their ability to get key questions answered often was constrained by the availability of their manager or an IT person.

This does more than simply remove obstacles for employees — though that’s a key function as well. It enables them to spend less time thinking about overcoming the challenges presented by their own tools, thereby unlocking creativity and mental bandwidth that simply wasn’t available before.

Talent Augmentation

Beyond the profound impact this has on the day-to-day lives of employees, most digital adoption solutions offer management the ability to track numerous KPIs to identify areas experiencing the greatest levels of efficiency as well as areas suffering uncommon friction.

This offers savvy leaders the option to implement seemingly small interventions at key points in an organization to reap disproportionate benefits. Whereas in the past, managers would have to rely on intuition and experience, to a certain extent, to identify the source of bottlenecks, now they can validate their suspicions with hard data.

In this way, digital adoption solutions augment the existing abilities and talents of their users. Instead of learning new programs every year, employees are able to spend time improving their professional skillsets and working on projects with a direct business impact, whether that’s business development, sales, meeting with customers, developing communications materials, or any of the other innumerable tasks required of workers every day.

Managers have greater visibility into their organizations, enabling them to be more responsive to business concerns, such as inefficiencies in workflows or employee dissatisfaction. Because employees aren’t spending weeks or months getting up to speed on new software, managers can implement new solutions quickly and without disruption.

Technology changes faster than organizations are able to. Often, the sweeping technological changes that go on to redefine our working lives become a part of our day-to-day routines with very little warning, thanks to decisionmakers unfamiliar or inaccessible to us.

Employees are expected to adopt new software with very little guidance — and often what is provided is episodic and ineffective. Instead of positioning companies to take advantage of new opportunities, this type of lukewarm implementation can hamstring them.

Especially as the rate of technological progress increases, and the margins for deriving benefits from that tech relative to the competition decrease, being able to navigate transitions smoothly will be crucial to businesses that hope to succeed in the modern economy.

Digital adoption solutions are among the few ways companies can achieve such efficient implementations, and they remain the only class of tools capable of bringing order to the chaos of enterprise applications. In other words, digital adoption tools allow companies to disrupt markets without disrupting the office.

Khadim Batti

Khadim Batti is CEO and cofounder of Whatfix.

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