Digitizing the Frontline Workforce is Mission Critical

Jun 22, 2022 9:40:00 AM . Julia Walsh

The Drivers

Digitization of the frontline workforce has never been more important than it is today. It is seen as the ‘last frontier’ for organizations seeking to complete their digital transformation. Digitally enabled and empowered frontline workers have the potential to completely transform the way in which a business functions and delivers value through increased productivity, collaboration, speed, accuracy, and quality.

In a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 87% of the survey respondents said their organization will be more successful when frontline workers are empowered to make decisions in the moment. Further, 86% say that frontline workers need better technology-enabled insight to be able to respond to real-time events.

Reinforcing that premise, Webalo recently conducted a Webinar with 451 Research on how digitizing the frontline workforce is mission-critical. So far, we have seen the challenges which exist in digitizing the frontline workforce. They emanate from the very way in which organizations are structured, how they function, and how they have approached digitization initially-- more as a piecemeal endeavor instead of the all-encompassing project it should be.

Today, we will examine the drivers which justify the pursuit of frontline digitization. It may help leaders not only view the project favorably but also help them convince and bring on board, relevant stakeholders, and frontline workers for accepting and even pushing for this improvement.

Let’s understand what these drivers are, and how they can potentially help top leadership in manufacturing organizations better understand the benefits of frontline workforce digitization.

Productivity- Data from the HBR survey suggests that 72% of the executives surveyed say productivity increased through empowering the frontline workforce. This increase in productivity is the biggest driver for manufacturers around the world, but it also has clear benefits for the workforce and individuals who constitute it. The 451 Webinar panelists point out that workers, irrespective of their industry and individual job, prefer to execute their tasks in a timely, collaborative and accurate manner; so a platform like Webalo not only boosts their productivity, it also greatly enhances their job satisfaction.

Company leadership must consider this factor when contemplating which frontline digitization application to choose. The goal shouldn’t simply be to eliminate paper-based data collection or an application for oversight of time management. Rather, the application chosen must truly be a digital tool, which automates workflows and eliminates the need for its users to switch between applications. Productivity will truly increase when a single application allows the execution of tasks, recording of data, and cross-functional collaboration, while users are on the go, working on their tasks right on the shop floor. Unless the application delivers this enhanced and immersive engagement, productivity gains will remain sub-optimal.

Remember, productivity gains themselves will vary in degree and quality, depending upon the solution deployed. It is simply not enough to have a digital execution tool; it has to be a configurable, mobile-friendly, intuitive tool, which creates learning, collaboration, and speed of execution, which then translates to enhanced productivity across the board.

Data Availability- While data gaps exist due to the complex web of information silos, paper-based working and a lack of master data management, the availability of data through an application that covers the process in its entirety can be priceless for any manufacturer. When shop floor data is captured and reported in real-time, it reduces the inherent decision lag which paper/spreadsheet-based data capture presents. A line breakdown for instance, when reported on an application that can notify, prioritize and even deploy the maintenance personnel, can lead to a much faster resolution of the said breakdown.

Similarly, when data pertaining to a faulty part or sub-assembly enters a system that connects the process to the enterprise, several actions may trigger simultaneously. One, a notification may be sent to the supplier through the SCM, while an alert may be raised in the ERP, leading to the rescheduling of the job and a shift in priority for order execution. Two, the worker reporting the fault may be assigned a new job along with work instructions to execute, all in a matter of seconds. This directly impacts the productivity mentioned earlier and is derived from the availability of data that would previously have taken one or more days just to be reported, reviewed, and subsequently converted into actions.  

Frontline workers themselves understand the importance of digital tools and the transformative power they exert on any given manufacturing process. 451 Research points out that the majority of frontline workers understand that digital tools will impact the business, and it can be felt as soon as one year. Frontline workers, when empowered with data that is available within seconds for cross-functional actions, can catapult any operation towards the Industry 4.0 era.

ESG Goals & Low TCO- As consumers become more aware of the impact the products and services they consume have on the environment, companies have more and more stringent ESG (Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance) goals than ever to remain competitive and improve their current impact and social image. Digital tools provide better oversight in terms of quality and safety, which allows organizations to ensure they are compliant or better than existing regulations and standards. Further, digital tools enable a better understanding of asset utilization and may help organizations lower their energy costs when utilization is linked with energy consumption. A good digital tool allows companies not only to meet their current ESG goals but perform goal-setting and track improvements through the application itself.

Another major driver which justifies the quick deployment of a frontline digitization tool is the fact that it has a far lower TCO (total cost of ownership) when compared with other capital investments companies make on equipment and enterprise-level IT applications. The costs when divided per worker can be as low as 2-3 US Dollars per worker per day, with a payback within two years of deployment. This more assured ROI, plus the fact that value from the investment accrues from day one, acts as a major driver for the implementation of a frontline worker digitization solution.


In these uncertain times, the need to have a comprehensive solution that not only drives productivity but truly empowers the worker frontline can be a true game-changer. Top leadership in manufacturing organizations should seriously consider a platform that can deliver on the key drivers discussed, from productivity to ESG, but remember that it is a journey and no platform will transform the process instantly.