Customer-facing employees are receptive to technological change and want to be included in company’s digital transformation programs, according to a new survey of Australian workers.

Only 21 per cent of firstline workers (customer-facing or product-handling employees) are involved in digital transformation initiatives, according to research from Microsoft. A further 33 per cent are not involved but would like to be.

The online survey of 1390 working adults was commissioned by Microsoft and completed by analyst YouGov in September 2017. It focused on four industry sectors – health, retail, financial services and manufacturing.

77 per cent of employees – both customer-facing firstline workers and managers – believe that digital transformation and technology are significant issues for every organisation.

More than four out of five (81 per cent) survey respondents feel that strong leadership is key to a successful digital transformation program – but 36 per cent of firstline workers say their organisation is not effective when it comes to communicating information about such initiatives, while 39 per cent don’t have a clear idea of what their organisation is doing with digital technology.

The survey shows that firstline workers feel excluded from digital transformation initiatives, with almost two thirds (61 per cent) saying they don’t yet have an active and participatory role in how these technologies are deployed.

“Organisations that engage firstline workers in their digital transformation initiatives – ensuring that these programs are inclusive, simple and effective, supporting firstline creativity and teamwork while preserving enterprise and employee security – will be better placed to succeed with their strategic priorities,” said Ian Heard, General Manager, Digital Workplace & Collaboration, Microsoft Australia.

“Digital transformation is powerful but everyone needs access. Firstline workers are the key to the next wave of successful digital transformation and sustained competitiveness – they must be part of the program.”

Transforming customer experience was ranked as the number one strategic priority by respondents (22 per cent) followed by achieving above average profitability and revenue growth (18 per cent) and digital transformation (10 per cent).

Robot co-workers

The research also revealed firstline workers were positive about the impact of technological change on their jobs.

67 per cent of firstline workers agreed that the ability to work closely with automation and AI enabled systems was key to developing a successful modern workforce. Almost seven out of ten (66 per cent) feel that automation can make processes more flexible.

There’s support for digital transformation and enterprise innovation – with 84 per cent of firstline workers agreeing that technology can help streamline processes, while 82 per cent say technology is key to unleashing efficiencies. The research also revealed 62 per cent of firstline workers want to work with intelligent automated systems.

“As rote work is increasingly performed by machines, human interaction and knowledge-based expertise will become more important to firstline workers,” Heard said.

“They’ll use technology to collaborate, to exercise greater creative and strategic freedom, and to bring real value to the work they perform.”

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