Employee Benefits Future Strategy 2006 – Sponsor’s comment: HCI bridges digital divide

Article in full The growth of the digital home is inadvertently causing the digital void to widen. As we adopt more advanced technology for our homes it highlights the gap between those who are technology savvy and those who don’t understand the difference between Freeview and digital pay TV, or indeed those who may be vexed by an MP3 player. Children are now demanding internet access for their schoolwork, putting parents under more pressure to understand current technology and provide PCs at home. In a world of new and exciting technology, it is often confusing for consumers to know what is available on the market and from where they should purchase such items. Most people don’t turn to retailers with their PC or technology-related questions, but rather to a trusted friend. It feels comfortable when someone understands your requirements and above all else it makes it easy and convenient. That said, this really isn’t the ideal answer. Most of us don’t have friends with specialist IT knowledge and even if we do, the information they have may be limited or incorrect. HCIs provide employees with the opportunity to gain an internet-ready, home PC, but for some who want to get online and be part of the digital age it can be a scary prospect. This is why it is so important for employers to thoroughly research the needs of their employees. Most people want to know that there is someone on hand who they can rely on to answer their questions. This is where ‘support on demand’ really makes a difference to the service the employee receives from the HCI provider. If support is not made readily and easily available to HCI consumers then those fearful of technology will shy away from these programmes and the divide will inevitably grow. ‘Support on demand’ offers employees a safety net and also an opportunity to learn on demand, which is what many of us have come to expect. Most people are not prepared to wait for answers to questions; for example, if email goes down we want it back up instantaneously. So instead of relying on favourite search engines when there is something we need to know, ‘support on demand’ offers a real person who can provide advice and relevant answers to IT- and PC-related questions. Suppliers are now offering exciting new services to help consumers make informed decisions. For example, Belkin (the wireless network specialists), offer an internet service that will make sure that people buy the right product to do the job. After all, “does what it says on the tin” doesn’t work at all for a “pre-N MIMO wireless router”. Similarly, some suppliers are now offering home visits and personal trainers. These highly informed professionals offer services covering everything from setting up a new email account to configuring a pre-N MIMO thing. As the digital home gets increasingly complex, consumers are increasingly looking for more reassurance that they are doing the right thing. In an HCI context, employees are consumers and as such they demand offers that are demonstrably better than on the high street or the internet. They are also consumer savvy, if not IT savvy, and are inundated with places to buy the latest PC, including the local supermarket, putting pressure on suppliers to deliver. Employers need to make a good choice of benefits provider to raise their game and make sure that they not only meet the needs of the employee, but that they offer the best services available. Similarly, employers are rightly concerned about protecting and reinforcing their own “brand values”. These values can include everything from their Investors in People status to internal service levels when they reply to payroll queries. Finding a partner that can strengthen the employer’s brand is essential, especially when the partner may well be the only part of human resources that talks to the employee directly. Recognising what employees want and delivering it seems obvious, however, it is surprising how many employers fail to do this. This can lead to an employee compromise that doesn’t provide the support they need and that perpetuates the digital divide.