At Venado, our passion is helping customers solve important business problems through emerging technology – where mobile workers meet the physical world. We refer to these workers as “firstline workers”: mobile employees who engage with customers and interact with mission-critical physical assets daily.
Firstline workers were among the earliest users of mobile technology. Before Blackberries and iPhones became ubiquitous among white-collar professionals and consumers, service & repair technicians, public safety personnel, and other task-based workers used ruggedized mobile computers and the earliest handheld devices.
However, firstline workers desperately need a digital refresh. While the mobile user experience for consumers and white-collar professionals has evolved, firstline workers were left behind. But there's a renaissance brewing for these professionals; a wealth of emerging technologies – such as head-worn displays, wearables, mixed reality, video, and virtual assistants – will dramatically change the user experience for firstline workers.
While technology may be the catalyst here, I’m not focusing on the technology itself (more about that in future posts). Instead, I’m talking about why rethinking user experience for firstline workers is critical for achieving business outcomes.
Better, Faster, Safer
Technology should never be implemented for technology’s sake. Instead, there must be a focus on developing capabilities that drive business results. The simplest terms about empowering firstline workers are Better, Faster, and Safer.
While this may be a simple way of looking at the benefits for workers, doing things better, faster, and safer on the front line can yield meaningful results for the overall business:
- Better: What is the business impact? Better quality for the customer, which leads to improved customer engagement and retention, which yields better customer satisfaction and revenue growth. How do you measure this? With metrics like net promoter score (NPS), renewals, and customer service awards.
- Faster: What is the business impact? Greater operational efficiency, which leads to cost savings (bottom line) and/or turnarounds leading to quicker revenue recognition (top line). How can you measure this? With metrics like SLAs, truck rolls, job turnarounds/repeats, and inventory turns.
- Safer: What is the business impact? Improved employee and environmental safety, which creates happier, more efficient employees and more effective adherence to regulatory requirements. How can you measure this? With metrics like compliance scores, employee adherence to safety processes, days out of work from injuries, and reduced compliance violations.
To do things better, faster, and safer, organizations must rethink the processes for firstline workers. Technology can facilitate business process changes, but companies shouldn't implement technology without understanding the implications for user experience.
Getting out of the Boardroom and Into the Field
One of our guiding principles at Venado is that we won’t design technology solutions from the boardroom. In my previous blog about IT and business leaders working better together, I emphasized the importance of getting into the field.
Engaging directly with users to understand their jobs, challenges, and business processes is critical to rethinking how technology can improve firstline worker user experiences.
Here are key things to do and consider when getting into the field:
- Understand user workflows: There's often a disconnect between the people tasked with designing and building solutions (IT) and the users of that technology. IT leaders may understand the business requirements at a high level, but getting the nuances of user experience requires an understanding of user workflows. There may be official documentation of a process somewhere; however, the actual processes firstline workers use daily can vary from the “official” ones. One technique is creating detailed user workflows, such as a “day in the life.” This provides an understanding of where bottlenecks or challenges exist and reveals where current technology is failing users or causing an undue burden. Ultimately, it will reveal opportunities to transform a process to do things better, faster, and safer.
- Don’t just replace something with technology, think about how technology can change something: Too often, when companies consider technology initiatives for their users, they merely think about using a mobile or web application to replace or replicate something users are already doing (e.g., a paper-based process for inspections or calling a call center to place a parts order). Instead, if we understand user workflows and business processes, we can rethink how technology can change and improve a process. Or, to paraphrase JFK, “Ask not what you can do for your technology, but what your technology can do for you.”
- Make the technology work for the process, not the process work for the technology: This is another common mistake, and one related to the above. When companies don't think about how to optimize the business process for users, they often implement technology and then fit the process into it. Why? It could be because a design didn't get into the field and incorporate user input. Maybe an off-the-shelf solution was purchased "because it does 70% of what we need" – but not 100%. This is bad. Bad, bad. It forces users to work around their workflows, frustrating them and most likely making them resent the IT person who forced them to use it.
- Make technology experiences as immersive as possible: This builds on the previous point. Firstline workers need to get jobs done: inspections, repairs, operating equipment, and machinery. Those jobs are often physically intensive; they're using their hands, they're on their feet. The jobs are sometimes dangerous – they may be suspended high above the ground or in hazardous environments where they must keep their eyes on their task; they shouldn’t need to “step away” from that task to use their technology. This is where new technologies like head-worn displays, mixed reality, and conversational user interfaces can create “immersive” experiences for firstline workers. The idea is for firstline workers to interact with technology seamlessly while remaining engaged with the task at hand.
- Create intuitive and iterative solutions: One of the key premises of consumer mobile application design is that apps should be intuitive to use. Consumers should be able to download an app on their phone and immediately use it without documentation or training. Although applications for mobile firstline workers are inherently more complex than consumer apps because the business processes are often complex, it's still essential for the applications to be intuitive for end users. This doesn’t mean training won’t be required. Often, if companies design and implement technology solutions the right way, there's a change in the business process at the same time (to make it better, faster, or safer). Therefore, users will need training on both the process and how the technology enables it. Once the technology is in users' hands, however, it should be easy and intuitive to use. And, if we design solutions iteratively and continue to incorporate user feedback after initial development, app enhancements will improve usability.
Emerging technology has the potential to transform business operations dramatically, but it can be unclear how to leverage technology to drive real business results. If companies start by understanding their firstline worker needs, however, and make it a priority to improve the user experience, achieving expected business outcomes is possible. At Venado, we’re here to help solve this challenge. Contact us to learn more.
At Venado Technologies, our passion is helping customers solve important business problems by applying technology the right way. We believe that emerging technologies will continue to change the way work gets done. Venado Technologies helps business leaders and their most critical workers use technology in a way that makes their work easier, better, and safer.
Venado Technologies provides the brainpower and processes to ideate, create, run, and refresh digital experiences where mobile workers connect with the physical world. By bridging the divide between IT and line-of-business demands, Venado strikes a balance between the mobile worker experience and secure, reliable enterprise technology requirements to drive business outcomes.