What is digital employee experience? A key worker retention tool
Digital employee experience (DEX) tools can improve how workers use technology, which can lead to better satisfaction and retention. This article provides an overview of DEX, including what it is, what it does, why it matters, and more.
As organizations navigate the changes that have come to characterize the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic – including record-breaking numbers of employees leaving their jobs in the Great Resignation – many realize that they are more vulnerable than ever to facing a depleted workforce.
To address this challenge, a growing number of enterprises are deploying digital employee experience (DEX) tools and services to support a modern workforce. Some see DEX as a key to improving workers’ satisfaction and therefore retaining them at a time when many are considering job and career changes.
What is digital employee experience?
Digital employee experience is a measure of how effectively employees interact with various technologies in the workplace – and how they feel about those technologies. A DEX strategy focuses on tracking, assessing, and improving employees’ technology experience.
DEX management tools support that strategy by aggregating usage and performance data, analyzing that data, and providing insights that help companies make improvements to their technology. For instance, the software might evaluate how easy it is for people to use a company’s collaboration platforms, how fast the network is during peak hours, or how effective their mobile apps and devices are for performing everyday business tasks.
In short, DEX tools enable companies to better understand and enhance their employees’ experiences with technology.
Why digital employee experience matters
The thinking behind measuring and evaluating DEX is that workers who find it hard or complex to complete their tasks using the platforms their employers provide will be less satisfied and less productive than they might otherwise be. As a result, they might be more inclined to move on to a different job at another organization.
“Leaders should care about DEX because it impacts overall employee engagement,” says Andrew Hewitt, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “If technology gets in the way of an employee’s ability to be successful at work, they will grow increasingly frustrated, burnt out, and eventually leave the company.”
With the ongoing popularity of remote and hybrid work triggered by the pandemic, research firm Gartner notes, employees are much more likely to be interacting with their colleagues, customers, and others via technology, and this necessitates deeper visibility into and management of end-users’ experience with technology.
What DEX tools do
Gartner calls DEX tools “an evolution of digital experience monitoring, unified endpoint management (UEM), and remote monitoring and management tools.” They offer new capabilities such as “the collection of employee sentiment data, integration of team and organizational structure data, and actionable insights driven by improved analytics and machine learning (ML) engines,” the firm says.
“DEX tools utilize a software agent installed on the endpoint device,” says Dan Wilson, senior director analyst at Gartner. “All of them support Windows, most support macOS, and some support Android and Linux. These agents collect a significant amount of telemetry and logs, and some perform synthetic transactions. They also include bidirectional engagement, where [administrators] can push communications to employees and [gather] sentiment from employees by way of surveys.”
The near real-time processing of aggregated data from endpoints, applications, employee sentiment, and organizational context helps provide insights that companies can leverage to make improvements, Wilson says. The data is processed by advanced analytics engines or machine learning into actionable insights and reports that cover a range of use cases including identifying technology issues and automating self-healing, improving troubleshooting and root-cause analysis for major incidents, basic software asset management and license recovery, enabling performance-based (rather than scheduled) device refresh cycles, and confirming key performance indicators and service-level agreements.
DEX provides a more performant and stable technology environment, says Hewitt. Other benefits Forrester notes include increased employee satisfaction, better insight into qualitative feedback, and reduced software expenditures through software license reclamation.
What’s more, says Wilson, DEX tools can integrate with IT service management tools to automate the creation and updating of various tickets, and to surface details on how technology is being used to service desk analysts for faster triage and remediation. They also integrate with IT self-service portals and chatbots, he adds.
“IT leaders are looking [to have] fewer technology issues that disrupt and impede employee productivity, reduced overhead on IT staff through automation, improved endpoint configuration and patch compliance, better balance of objective and subjective success measures, [and] shifting IT toward being more proactive and human centric,” Wilson says. DEX software helps them achieve all these objectives.
The market for DEX tools and services is on the rise, and Gartner expects DEX adoption to increase rapidly in the coming years. By 2025, the firm predicts, half of IT organizations will have established a DEX strategy, team, and management tool, an increase from just 5% in 2021.
“The shift to hybrid work, continued digital workplace investment, accelerated software release cadence, and unprecedented [loss of talent through resignations] are driving demand for objective measurement and continuous improvement of DEX,” Wilson says.
Forrester, which sometimes refers to DEX tools as end-user experience management (EUEM), in a May 2022 report said 33% of global software decision-makers indicate they have implemented or are expanding implementation of EUEM software. An additional 32% said they’re currently implementing or will implement it over the next 12 months.
DEX tool vendors are all reporting significant growth and adoption, Wilson says, with smaller vendors growing by up to 50% and larger vendors by up to 25% annually.
Experts warn that numerous factors may prevent companies from getting the most out of DEX tools – or from deploying them in the first place. One of the most common obstacles to success with DEX tools is a lack of motivation, direction, or skillset to do more than maintain the status quo, Wilson says. There is also what Wilson calls an “ignorance is bliss” mindset, where IT leaders fear that suddenly unveiling a massive volume of technology issues will make the department look bad.
IT often values quantitative technology and activity-based metrics over employee-centric experience measures, Wilson says. “DEX may be too advanced for low-maturity IT organizations,” he says.
A Forrester report from 2021 notes that the organizations most advanced in DEX maturity – based on a model the firm created that evaluates organizations in a number of areas – are likely to see the strongest benefits. For example, advanced-maturity organizations are seven times more likely than basic-maturity organizations to say they have seen fewer disruptions to the end-user experience as a result of their current DEX practices. Highly mature organizations are also much more likely to see higher employee retention and 33% more likely to report high employee satisfaction.
As with other areas of technology, skills and staffing shortages can be an issue. “These tools require dedicated personnel to get the most out of them,” Hewitt says. “Organizations fail to maximize their benefit when they don’t assign a dedicated person to manage the platform.”
Integration of multiple DEX tools is proving to be a challenge for many. An online survey of 537 global decision-makers conducted by Forrester in February and March 2022 showed that nearly 80% of respondents are purchasing multiple products for managing DEX, often from three or more vendors, yet only a third are integrating these tools to form a consolidated solution.
In addition, the cost to acquire, implement, and integrate new tools can hinder some organizations from deploying DEX. The 2022 Forrester survey, sponsored by VMware, showed that high costs are rated as the top concern in managing DEX.
Organizations often have difficulty translating DEX investments into business outcomes, the report said. Measuring return on investment (ROI) through remote workers’ effectiveness is a related challenge in justifying DEX investment. And more than half of respondents rated the ability to scale access to critical applications and data as challenging, further impacting the perceived value of DEX.
“Because DEX is often a very intangible benefit, organizations often struggle to convert improvements in the technology environment to an impact on employee experience,” Hewitt says. “This is getting easier with built-in dashboards, though, that show the impact on experience.”
Data privacy and security also present challenges. “Because these tools monitor what’s happening on employee endpoints, IT teams need to be very clear [about] the purpose of these tools when deploying them to end users,” Hewitt says.
Finally, some organizations can be hindered from using DEX by legislative, regulatory, industry, or labor union limits on data collection and use, Wilson says.
“Most organizations are still using these tools primarily for IT-focused, tactical use cases,” Wilson says. “More mature, leading IT organizations realize that DEX tools can really enhance the ability of a cross-functionally driven DEX strategy to support IT and employee-facing improvements.”
Success with DEX
All that said, companies with successful DEX deployments are seeing benefits. Mondelez, a multinational confectionery, food, and beverage company, has been using a DEX platform from Nexthink for about four years.
“The main driver of deploying the DEX tool was employee experience, and making sure that while employee turnover is inevitable, it wasn’t due to our technology stack,” says Geoff Wright, global solution owner – digital experience at Mondelez. “However, since the pandemic and the subsequent ‘Great Resignation,’ DEX has become more important than ever, and the ability to provide proactive IT support and a reduction of service desk tickets has been critical for hybrid and remote work.”
Mondelez has had “great success” so far using DEX, Wright says. “The proactive IT support has been a major win, particularly now that we have so many people working from home,” he says. “There are plenty of business benefits, but one of the most important benefits to me is how it contributes positively to employee stress levels.”
Technology failures exacerbate an already stressful situation, Wright says, and have a ripple effect on performance and mental well-being. “The visibility that Nexthink provides us helps us combat this issue, getting to employees before the issue disrupts their workflow,” he says.
“I often feel like the Wizard of Oz, overseeing all of the software and hardware issues our employees are facing and seeing up close any latency issues that different programs may be experiencing while working together,” Wright says.
There’s also a financial benefit. “We pay per ticket for calls to our service desk, so being able to reduce the number of tickets opened has saved us money and employees’ time,” Wright says. “We’ve also seen a cost reduction during necessary password resets during the pandemic. We were able to get self-service password resets for every employee, which was more convenient for them and more budget-friendly for us.”
As part of its DEX strategy, Mondelez will aggressively focus on green IT initiatives over the next year. “There are many things organizations can do to cut back on their own [carbon] emissions,” Wright says. “My focus is on the employee device health side of things and helping to educate employees of the impact of their own computing habits – in particular, getting employees to shut down their laptops at the end of the week. One hundred thousand employees and their 100,000 devices being powered down can have a major impact.”
IT at Mondelez has been the main stakeholder in the implementation of the DEX platform, Wright says. “From a solution standpoint, my team is in charge of our Nexthink platform, and we are focused on IT outcomes,” he says. “Of course, those outcomes have a larger business impact, and that bubbles up to the top. But it is led with IT in mind.”
Another company, financial software provider Intuit, has been using VMware DEEM (Digital Employee Experience Management) along with the vendor’s Workspace ONE Hub Services for about six months.
“Our main business driver for deploying Workspace ONE Hub Services was to provide a unified experience no matter what platform our users selected,” says Andrew Werner, lead engineer. “For DEEM, we needed a way to gauge end-user satisfaction of both the IT department and the experience with [the] platforms we are providing.”
It’s more important now than ever to embrace DEX, Werner says, as users are becoming more mobile and working more from home. “They need to be able to accomplish what they need from all platforms – and have all the tools at their fingertips – partnered with ease of use,” he says.
Just as important as giving employees the right tools, he says, is “to ensure that we are being proactive when it comes to taking care of our users and responding to issues before they even notice them.”