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Deskless Frontline Workers at Tipping Point for Tech Investments

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Deskless workers make up 80% of the global workforce but a mere 1% of the $300 billion in annual software venture funding goes to solutions that serve these frontline workers. A new study is seeking to change that.

Emergence Capital, an early stage venture capital firm, commissioned a study of 100 IT buyers from deskless industries such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture to understand their views on investing in technology for unwired employees. The goal is to inspire more tech providers to serve this market.

According to the survey, the nearly 3 billion people who make up the global “deskless workforce” are largely underserved by the desk-bound IT brains developing business solutions. High adoption of portable solutions such as smartphones, wearable and even drones in these industries are highlighting the lack of investment and the growing demand.

Leading adopters

The top eight deskless industries—agriculture, education, healthcare, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation and construction—have traditionally been stragglers in tech adoption. However, Emergence Capital sees this investment at a tipping point. Now that Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, demand will only increase for technology workplace solutions. This, in combination with more powerful mobile computing and greater integration of data on the job, should drive investment.

The study found the manufacturing and transportation industries lead in technology adoption but are also planning the highest investments into deskless technology in the year ahead (91%). Boosting productivity remains the highest priority (33% of survey respondents selected this as the top reason to invest in deckles technology) but improving the employee experience is a close second (23%). The reason?

Many deskless industries have some of the highest turnover rates. For example, the study points out that supermarkets and quick service restaurant workers see 100% turnover each year. Technology solutions that can boost retention or make new hires more productive faster can boost a company’s bottom line.

Rethinking frontline worker solutions

The main challenge, according to this study, Silicone Valley developers don’t always understand the needs of their products’ deskless end-users. Emergence Capital offers three suggestions for developing more deskless user-friendly programs:

  • Many deskless application areas want an industry-specific approach. These purpose-built applications can solve end-users’ problems more effectively.
  • Usability becomes even more critical for deskless workers. Many of these workers are operating in distracting environments and using their hands to get work done. They simply don’t always have the ability, or patience, to navigate a complex product. Solutions that are intuitive and even simplistic are most likely to garner adoption.
  • The software users in these industries rarely have the buying power to invest in a paid solution, so it’s important that software solutions have a clear ROI and take a top-down marketing strategy.

For more information, find the full study at

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