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If you want to experience the digital workplace up close go clothes shopping, take a flight or go into your bank. So far, we have all fixated on the impact of the digital workplace on office workers – important but the least significant change in my view. The real transformation is in frontline retail and customer service.

Barclays Bank has just bought 8,500 iPads for its branch staff. Emirates Airlines is equipping its flight attendants with 1,000 Windows tablets, while the UK’s postal service, the Royal Mail, has bought 120,000 mobile devices called “Personal Digital Assistants” to use across its operations.

Walk into successful European clothing chain Zara and its sales assistants have already been morphing into market researchers, using smart devices to feed opinions and comments from customers back to centralised manufacturing in Spain. If a pattern of comments from customers is noticed in different countries, all wanting “that dress” in purple, then rapid manufacturing means it’s on the shelf seven days later – in purple.

“The mobile frontline is a revolution that recalibrates the experience of both staff and customers”

What we are starting to see (and this wave of enabling the “mobile frontline” is about to reach rocket speed) is the equipping of frontline staff in shops, restaurants, transportation and distribution with incredibly powerful technology. The mobile frontline is a revolution caused by the digital workplace that recalibrates the experience of both staff and customers.

I had a personal example of this myself when I went to buy a new coffee maker and vacuum cleaner from a department store. When I bought my Nespresso coffee maker, a “Nespresso Ambassador” held an iPad before me and got me to fill in various details, select coffees and become a new member of the “Nespresso Club”. When I purchased an equally excellent Miele vaccum cleaner, I walked out with the machine and no relationship with Miele at all. In both cases there is the potential for on-going revenue and relationship with each company, but one retail transaction included a digital and physical layer, the other did not.

What is fascinating about the mobile frontline is that it empowers staff with data and knowledge and so changes their role entirely. A train guard with no information and connectivity can help, advise and re-assure but with smart technology, they plug into the shared intelligence behind the train system and their own “digital status” in their workforce is raised. Engaged, empowered and informed – isn’t that we all want to feel as employees?

To date the digital workplace conversation has centred on knowledge workers (deemed mainly to be office workers) and on portability and flexibility in work. All good stuff but that section of the workforce already felt equipped with data and information in their comfy offices. Out in the field – on the road, trains, shops, warehouses – workers felt like second class citizens. Now they are becoming knowledge workers too because smart technology is in their hands – literally.

Have you seen any examples like this and what do you think?

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About the author

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG), rated by the Financial Times in 2020 and 2021 as one of the UK’s leading management consultancies in digital transformation.

Paul is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book is ‘Nature of Work – The new Story of Work for a Living Age’ (co-authored with Shimrit Janes). His previous book, The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s first book, The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University. He hosts the Digital Workplace Impact podcast.

Paul hosted the pioneering internet radio show Digital Workplace Live and is Executive Producer of the 24-hour global digital experience DWG24.

Prior to founding DWG, Paul was Founder and CEO of communications company The Empowerment Group; Publisher and Editor of social and digital innovation magazine “Wave”; and, in pre-internet days, co-founder of the Ideas Café salon. He lives in the Cotswolds in the UK.

See more about Paul Miller on Wikipedia

Connect with Paul on Twitter: @paulmillersays

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