The digital divide: is there a generation gap?

23 October 2014

Equiniti's Director of Software and Innovation, Charlie Tuxworth, talks about how digital is shaping the future

"It was recently remarked to me by a younger employee that he felt there was a generational gap which existed in workplaces. His comments were intriguing; he went on to explain that older employees tended to discuss things while hovering over desks or in corridors, valuing face to face conversation over emails. In the world of technology, this isn’t as much an issue, but in other businesses it could prove to be a critical one.

The millennial generation is the most digitally engaged yet. Any service that is not available online seems rather anachronistic. This point is emphasised by the fact that companies have evolved their customer services strategies to handle complaints via social media. A few years ago, it was still commonplace for businesses to direct complainants to their website, an email address, or a phone number. However, companies now endeavour to deal with enquiries on the platform on which they were first received, both to avoid duplication of effort on behalf of the customer, and to streamline the process in a quick and efficient manner to safeguard their reputation on a public forum.

There are endless examples of the way in which technology is transforming our lives, our businesses, and our communication processes.

More and more paper-based processes are being unceremoniously dumped into the dustbin of inefficiency as technology becomes operationally prevalent. The recent move to rid the world of paper tax discs, swiftly replacing this archaic system into a digitised database monitored by a simple number plate scan, is a prime example of technological transformation. The effects will be profound – saving businesses and individuals millions in administrative costs. It is now possible to register to vote online when just a few years ago it involved a laborious process involving paperwork, administrative duties and a number of trips to the local council and electoral registration office. Jobseekers can claim JSA and apply for jobs online at the touch of a button, limiting the need to visit the job centre. There are endless examples of the way in which technology is transforming our lives, our businesses, and our communication processes.

While in some cases the opportunity still exists to do things the old-fashioned way, the eventual aim will be to digitalise these processes completely, not only because it will become an integral part of consumer and business behaviour, but also because it is more economically and operationally efficient.

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It was once the case that only the people using an HRM, ERP or Accounting System would have the specialist knowledge and skills required to effectively manage the system. However, with self-service modules becoming more and more mainstream, there is mounting pressure for technology-led companies to engineer solutions which combine the accessible and familiar aesthetics of Facebook with the intuition and simplicity of a basic smartphone app.

Technology is dictating a changing trend in consumer behaviour and interaction with businesses, products and services, and the demands of today are far more immediate.

As a business which delivers technology solutions to the public and private sectors, there is an inherent need to make Equiniti’s solutions as accessible as possible to employees, because technology is dictating a changing trend in consumer behaviour and interaction with businesses, products and services, and the demands of today are far more immediate.

However, if a system can only be accessed digitally, whether it is deployed by the local council or by an employer, then it is imperative to acknowledge that some employees and indeed customers may lack digital skills and technological literacy.

Equiniti’s self-service product base is wide ranging, although there are two notable examples of how our products interact with users who may lack digital experience. These are our HR and payroll self-service module, and our voice-picking solution for the warehousing industry. Universal roll-outs across businesses have led to every employee in large companies across numerous offices and destinations with the ability to access payslips, submit leave requests and amend their personal details via an online portal. Our voice-picking solution replaces barcode scanning and instructs warehouse pickers as to what item to pick up next via verbal commands. This is an example of new technology superseding old technology, as digitisation continues to evolve.

In an environment where the majority of staff work manually or represent an older demographic, there will inevitably be a proportion of employees who will lack digital skills. However, running dual systems to accommodate for this digitisation gap limits cost-savings and is also highly inefficient, and so the onus is on innovative companies to introduce products which are as user friendly for people approaching retirement, harbouring a disability or lacking digital literacy, as they are for millennials."