The ways in which most people work are foreign to us in Silicon Valley. A majority of the world's workers don't sit at a desk. They are in industries such as construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. They have different needs than those of us who build technology for the world.

These individuals make up the Deskless Workforce— a 2.7 billion-person strong portion of the global working population. Despite being 80% of the workforce, these workers have been forgotten and overlooked by technology providers. Traditionally, little of the $300 billion that is spent on business software each year has gone to these workers.

However, this is changing rapidly. New computing platforms such as smartphones, wearables, and drones are ideally suited to the needs of deskless workers. They are powerful and programmable just like the computing devices deskbound workers use. But they are also highly portable which makes them a perfect fit for deskless environments. Companies with many deskless workers are beginning to see that great technology can be as important to this part of the workforce as it is to the rest of their employees.

This year, we surveyed 100 companies to understand their views on technology for the deskless workforce. We also analyzed years of venture financing data to assess how entrepreneurs are addressing the deskless workforce opportunity. We're pleased to publish our findings from this work. Our hope is that this inspires the creation of more companies that service this fast-growing, but less-understood, part of the technology market.

80% of Global Workforce is Deskless

The top 8 deskless industries: Agriculture, Education, Healthcare, Retail, Hospitality, Manufacturing, Transportation, and Construction, employ 2.7B employees. While traditionally, these industries have been seen as laggards in tech adoption, our survey indicates that we are at a tipping point. We are seeing momentum build as millennials now make up the majority of the workforce. Employee demand for new technology coupled with powerful mobile computing platforms makes this a dynamic time for deskless workforce technology.

Manufacturing 427MHealthcare 148MRetail 497MRestaurants/Hospitality 122MEducation 226MAgriculture 858MTransportation&Logistics 189MConstruction/Real Estate 265M

Buyers Are Bullish on Deskless Technology

Who We Surveyed

We surveyed 100 IT buyers from the top deskless worker industries to understand their IT strategy for their deskless workforce. We found that the tide is shifting and an increased attention is being paid to these workers and the ways in which new technology can help them perform better in their jobs.


Employee Size

IT Budget

01 Spending on Technology for Deskless Workers is on the Rise

Despite all the talk about automation, from autonomous vehicles to robots on the manufacturing line, empowering the human workforce with technology is a current initiative. 82% of respondents are planning to increase spending. In fact, Transportation and Manufacturing are the two leading industries. Across all industries we saw an average planned increase in spend of 31%.
Buyers in Transportation and Manufacturing are the two industries planning to increase spending on deskless technology the most. All of the companies we surveyed in Transportation and 91% of Manufacturing plan to increase spending next year.

91%Manufacturing77%Healthcare82%Hospitality55%Agriculture100%Transportation78%Construction% of Companies Planning to IncreaseSpending on Deskless Technology83%Retail75%Education

02 While Productivity is #1, keeping employees happy is critical

While you can't add more hours to the day, technology can help you be more productive with those hours - or at least that's the hope of IT buyers. New technology is pushing the frontier beyond the office and helping workers right where and when the work is happening. And making sure those employees are happy is very important. Many deskless worker industries have some of the highest turnover rates. For example supermarkets and quick service restaurant workers have 100% turnover each year. Technology plays an important role in both retention as well as getting new hires up the productivity curve.

03 Companies are optimistic about new technology

New technology and platforms are transforming the way deskless workers are able to perform their jobs. Adoption of these new technologies: mobile, wearables, and drones, is growing. Mobile adoption is still leading with 94% of companies currently using mobile solutions, but newer technology is gaining popularity - 29% of companies are using wearables, and another 40% plan to use it. Depending on the industry and technology, we saw the potential of mass adoption. For example 100% of construction companies are or are planning on adopting drones.

0%Phones &Tablets0%Wearables0%Drones0%Other HardwareUsing TodayNotPlanning to UsePlanning to Use% of Companies that Use or are Planning to Use Mobile Platforms

04 Buying Decisions are still top down

Though deskless technology is deployed remotely, the majority of decisions are still made top-down from headquarters. 51% of buying decisions are made by the C-suite, 38% by mid-level managers and only 11% by the end user. This causes an interesting dynamic where the technology purchased is rarely used by the decision maker. So while go to market strategy must focus on the top, in order to be successfully deployed and adopted, product design must focus on the end users' needs, surroundings, capabilities, and preferences.

Despite the Deskless Workforce Opportunity a Funding Gap Exists

05 Venture is Underfunding Deskless Technology

Despite the interest in increasing spend on deskless technologies, only 1% of software venture funding is going towards technology serving 80% of the world's workforce. Thus, there is a big opportunity for new company creation.


06 Deskless Funding Starting to Gain Momentum

Deskless technology has captured multiple waves of venture funding as the category has evolved to take advantage of new platforms. It is still early, but we may be seeing an inflection point in the future.

07 Industry Leading VC's Are Building Deskless Portfolios

While the deskless software category has yet to hit its inflection point, there are a number of investors that have already started investing. Notably, corporate VCs are two of the most active investors in this space, perhaps signaling that we're likely to see more corporate venture activity from companies with large deskless workforces who see this as a strategic investment in their core businesses.