I’ve been fortunate enough to have played a part in implementing digital identity initiatives within two different grocery retailers; a traditional bricks-and-mortar UK supermarket, and a digital native online retailer. Both businesses delivered their products and generated revenue in very different ways, but when it came to employee digital identities – they had very similar challenges.
I assisted the traditional bricks-and-mortar UK supermarket on their journey towards maximising the value of their Google Workspace deployment. All employees were given their own digital identity and access to most of the productivity tools on the platform, with varying levels of access – based on the employee’s location and role. The initial deployment programme had been completed before I joined the organisation. One of the primary objectives of the programme was to deliver a unique identity to all employees, enabling them to access one common business function that every employee requires – payroll services.
What was really interesting and challenging about this organisation, was that they had multiple front line worker categories, who all had different secondary requirements, beyond the primary human resource payroll access. Supermarket teams counted for the majority of employees, but the wider organisation had employees whose roles were also focused on both manufacturing and logistics operations.
Employees would use their digital identity to authenticate into a two-factor authentication (2FA) intranet-type platform, but most importantly, as a portal to access their payslip. Once authenticated, all end-users could access the Workspace tools made available to them. It was interesting to see that while all had access, some employees had actually never authenticated and accessed their payslips, presumably as they did not have the supporting technology, or the confidence to use the solution.
As the programme rolled out, product usage matured and transitioned, with Workspace becoming business as usual. Adoption and user experience became the main focus. Security requirements also matured and the need to enable 2FA for all employees became apparent. However, there was a misalignment between central stakeholders (who were already enforced into 2FA), and the front line employees’ digital capabilities.
Concerns were raised about the complexity of the change for the front-line end-user and how this would impact adoption. In reality, through early adopter tests and workshops, it became very clear that the majority of employees had a good understanding of 2FA, due to their personal use of Google’s consumer products. Employees almost expected this transition for their corporate identity, and feedback suggested it should be somewhat easy to implement.
By placing people at the centre of Google Workspace, employees were able to capitalise on their own personal experiences with the technology and used this knowledge to drive efficiencies at the workplace. Additionally, in the true spirit of collaboration, employees shared their confidence and willingness to support their peers, who struggled to adopt the technical change.
The second retailer I supported was a digital native retailer, and part of a global business group founded in the UK. In this scenario, the retail function was independent of the group’s focus, which was primarily technology and logistics.
As with the traditional bricks-and-mortar supermarket, the head office and central operational teams were fully supported with a digital identity, and full access to Workspace’s suite of tools. However, the decision was taken that the front line workers, who mainly supported logistics and warehouse operations, should have a basic identity, simply providing access to a shared employee platform.
This solution had one basic feature allowing one-way communications to be shared and it enabled employees to access the required human resource type documentation. This separation of digital capabilities between central and front line employees was a known limitation, impacting the overall productivity and efficiency of operations, and contributing to a cultural divide.
In practice, having two different identities required all group-wide or business unit communications to be created and delivered twice, using two different methods. This often led to delayed communication to the front line teams, with no real way of understanding if the messages had been received.
I would also highlight that the use of video live streams was a real success story for this organisation. However, the front line teams had their live stream delivered on a separate secure public platform, due to the fact that they didn’t have the unified identity to support any real-time interactions from the users.
In summary, digital identity is closely linked to cultural unity, and making sure that all employees have an equal experience is a core part of creating a collaborative, contributing and content workforce.
Providing front line workers a reduced level of digital identity will most likely contribute to an operational and cultural divide. This is particularly true as we emerge from an era of constant physical presence, and embrace a new hybrid model of working, whereby our identity within an organisation is both physical and digital.
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