Digital gap leaves Ireland’s frontline workers behind

A staggering 62% of Irish frontline staff feel left behind by their “highly digitalised” employer organisations.

On the face of it most Irish frontline service organisations claim to be “digitally mature”, but their staff say otherwise.

A study of 400 professionals working in Irish frontline service organisations by Eir Evo and Microsoft to measure digital maturity and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) reveals a worrying digital gap in frontline services.

“What is crucial now is to focus on enabling frontline workers to better connect with each other and their customers through real-time collaboration”

Although organisations claimed to be “highly digitalised”, two thirds of individuals are not feeling the full benefits in their roles.

The study gathered insights from over 400 professionals across health, education, local and national government, retail, and hospitality.

A digital divide in the Irish frontline

A substantial 65% of frontline workers rate their organisations as ‘highly digitalised’ on the digital maturity scale. 86% of frontline workers now have access to a mobile device for work and 51% are using cloud-based collaboration tools such as Microsoft 365. The majority of both leaders and workers feel they have access to the devices and systems they need to carry out their work.

Yet, 62% of frontline service leaders and workers feel they personally are ‘digitally poor’ within their role. This finding indicates a significant gap between having access to digital devices and solutions and using them strategically to deliver value add and efficiencies within their role.

This is evidenced by the fact that over a third of respondents identified limited connectivity and a lack of real-time digital collaboration tools as barriers to optimal job performance. And nearly 31% still rely on manual, time-consuming processes for tasks that could be automated, such as data entry and reporting. A clear challenge emerging is how frontline services can better leverage, integrate and connect their devices and solutions for frontline workers to address these pain points.

“Our research highlights a disparity in digital adoption among frontline workers across Ireland,” warns Martin Wells, managing director of Eir Evo.

“While they have better access to technologies and are confident about their digital capabilities, there is a gap between organisational digital goals and the actual digital experiences of frontline workers. What is crucial now is to focus on enabling frontline workers to better connect with each other and their customers through real-time collaboration and to realise the value and potential of increased digitalisation through greater inclusion and literacy.

Shadow GenAI culture

The study also underlines the emergence of a ‘shadow generative AI culture’ among frontline workers, with 27% actively using open-source AI tools like Chat GPT to navigate daily challenges. This underscores the urgent need for organisations to provide secure, reliable, and officially sanctioned AI tools to their teams.

The majority of respondents cited that working with customers to be able use systems and processes was the greatest pain point for them in their role (40%). 39% are fearful of causing a security incident and 38% are most frustrated by learning to use a new process or system.

In relation to cyber security and data protection, some conflicts have emerged in the findings that point to a strong theoretical culture of cyber vigilance but in practice, security breaches and data mismanagement appear commonplace. For example, 65% felt confident that they were compliant with the data security protocols within the organisation. Yet, 39% have experienced a data security incident or breach in the organisation. Almost 70% are confident in the accuracy of the data they work with. Yet, 56% have encountered data inconsistencies or errors.

“At Eir Evo, we know how vital digital inclusion is, and how AI can help frontline organisations succeed,” Wells said. “Our partnership with Microsoft gives us a unique advantage to drive this transformation, ensuring that our customers have the best technologies and the skills to use them well.”

“We believe in working with organisations to make more possible. It’s important that strategic investment is supported by a commitment to digital upskilling and inclusion, so the digital divide is bridged, and frontline workers are supported, secure and empowered to deliver the best service possible.”

Microsoft Ireland Public Sector Lead, Dr Frank O’Donnell said workers who are customer-facing or who are on the frontline are at the heart of delivering the essential services that communities rely on.

“Their first-hand experiences and insights are invaluable in understanding how digital tools and AI can enhance the quality and efficiency of vital services, ensuring that the benefits of digital transformation reach every corner of our society. This focus helps to identify and bridge gaps in digital inclusion, ensuring that the frontline of our communities is empowered with the technology, the culture and the skills they need to excel in their critical roles.”

Main image at top: Martin Wells, managing director, Eir Evo

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