Where digital experience dollars see the best ROI

CIOs can make big strides for employees, and with top-line growth, by investing more in key technologies

Chief information officers couldn’t ask for better odds on their tech investments than when it comes to digitizing the employee experience.

Organizations that make only minor investments in digital experiences see outsized returns in corporate performance, according to a global survey from ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab that covered five major sectors—financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, public, and telecom. Companies that have made the most progress with digitizing experience report higher employee productivity (58%), lower costs (44%), improved customer experience (42%), and higher profitability (41%).

Just 20% of all surveyed organizations ranked as “leaders” in digital employee experience (EX), meaning they have made significant progress in at least 8 of 14 different practice areas. The remaining 80% of organizations ranked as intermediates (40%), with progress in at least six areas; and followers (40%), with progress in five or fewer areas.

How can CIOs spend wisely to make up for lost ground, or become EX leaders in 2021? Investing in the right technologies can build the right foundation. For Earl Newsome, CIO of IT Americas for Linde PLC, a global industrial gases and engineering company, investing in better digital experiences for some 80,000 employees in over 100 countries starts with a strong commitment to the cloud.

“Our ability to rapidly transform and change is much enhanced by the cloud,” says Newsome. “You take your system services, put them in a cloud that will give you trustworthy experiences to deliver to your employees, and give them the ability to work from anywhere. If you’re not doing that right now, you’re making a mistake.”

Identify the right practice areas to digitize

For CIOs still in the early stages of digitizing employee workflows, one starting point for tech investment is to see where the most advanced practitioners of digital employee experience (EX) are finding success. In the survey, EX leaders identified several practice areas that generate the largest returns:

  • IT support: 82%
  • Employee feedback: 64%
  • Employee training: 59%
  • Uniform access across functions: 60%
  • HR/personal information: 55%

Every industry has a different sweet spot for best practice areas to digitize, the survey shows. Public sector organizations (62%) and telecoms (61%), for example, realize bigger gains by focusing on IT support. Financial services firms are getting the most from digitizing employee training (46%) and feedback (45%). Of all sectors surveyed, manufacturing firms are making the most progress overall across all practice areas of digital EX (68% vs. the 55% average).

Invest in the right technologies for each practice area

The ServiceNow/ESI ThoughtLab survey suggests other ways EX followers can catch up with leaders. First, they can look at technologies that support EX where leaders have invested the most. In each case, follower organizations are significantly behind in all these areas:

  • Cloud platforms
  • Leaders: 45%, Followers: 27%
  • Robotic process automation(RPA)
  • Leaders: 44%, Followers: 25%
  • Online pulse surveys/employee feedback
  • Leaders: 37%, Followers: 10%
  • Digital platforms and collaboration tools
  • Leaders: 26%, Followers: 16%
  • Data analytics for decision-making
  • Leaders: 23%, Followers: 13%

Aside from considering the benefits of investing in core technologies, CIOs can also consider how certain niche investments offer substantially bigger returns relative to investment outlay. For example, three times as many firms enjoy high ROI from investing in digital assistants than those that make significant investments in this area. The perceived ROI is nearly as high for remote video and chat tools, mobile-enabled work experiences, and wellness and fitness apps.

One lesson that Newsome, Linde’s CIO, has learned from recent investments in both employee and customer experience is that there’s no one-tech-fits-all solution. Companies that adopt an experience-first view as they reflect on what he calls an “infinity crisis mirror,” will have a never-ending learning experience.

“There’s this notion about how to provide great sensory capabilities and understand what the employee experience is,” Newsome says. “It’s only through a continuous learning loop that you can create the best experiences. And whenever that next crisis happens, we will continue to evolve to react.”