I watched on as the CEO of one of the world’s largest software companies delivered an impassioned speech about the challenges associated with software ROI – picture the scene, overworked IT support desks, lack of productivity and failure to meet KPIs.

He declared his commitment to the cause,

‘We’re going to help our customers address adoption challenges and gain even more value from investments in our technologies.’

‘Yes…. mon captaine!!!! I’m right there with you’ – it was refreshing to see a senior technology leader, acknowledging adoption challenges and subsequently championing investment in customer success.

Rallying the troops

I was drawn by his call to unite in the face of despair, when software projects don’t quite go to plan. My fellow comrades were poised in agreement, we were ready to join him in his epic quest.

‘So, mon captaine what’s the plan? how are we going to banish the demons of poor adoption forever?’

‘… Silence.’

A powerful statement of intent but the solution was MIA.

It’s not the first time that we have heard those words uttered by vendors and practitioners but it’s solutions to problems that we are looking for.

But what is the challenge we face and why do we need to fix it?

Let’s take a look…

What is our mission?

‘To implement high-value digital transformation projects that deliver real employee (sometimes we forget this) and business benefits.’

But what complicates matters?

The speed, continuity, and complexity of change that digital transformation projects bring is overwhelming internal support services. It’s leading to a lack of engagement with technology and process.

Over 75% of software projects fail to deliver their intended ROI.

My experience in the years since we founded AppLearn, is that the pressure to demonstrate ROI has increased. I think there are a number of factors that contribute to this, not least the economic downturn and the need to do more with less but also the expectations we have around data availability to demonstrate value.

So, as the demand for more rapidly deployed, high-value software projects continues to grow, what are we going to do to help our people embrace change and adopt technology?

In the absence of an answer from our ‘captaine’, I would suggest that we need to conquer this quest on our own.

Or do we?

‘A problem halved is a problem solved, so is the problem really yours or just half of someone else’s?’

Vendors believe that it’s their responsibility to help tackle transformational adoption challenges. This was demonstrated through the impassioned speech from our captaine.

System implementors believe that it is their responsibility given that they often provide change management and implementation services that are intended to help people embrace change.

When the dust has settled…

Businesses themselves often have to deal with adoption challenges as they are left to deal with the aftermath and ultimately own the support networks designed to help users post-go live. However, they are ill-equipped to deal with transformational change with outdated delivery methods and no way to track and optimise employee engagement.

The truth is that everyone has a part to play when it comes to transformational adoption. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of people/organisations that contribute to its success.

This is why we are seeing more businesses recruiting for adoption specialist roles, in an attempt to improve the value derived from existing and future technology investments. The challenge that these resources will find however is that as they mature their thinking about adoption strategies and practices they will ultimately need a digital tool to enable and measure employee adoption.

Strategically we need to look at a number of different factors that our employees have to contend with when adopting transformational change.

Holistic adoption

Whether starting a new digital transformation project or supporting an existing technology, typical employee adoption issues will fall into one of the following categories.

Digital Transformation Adoption

Strategy – This is typically when you see a level of disengagement from the workforce where they do not agree with the proposed strategy behind the new digital transformation. We experience this a lot when businesses opt to upgrade older, ineffective tools rather than invest in newer ‘best in class’ solutions.

Culture – A big one. Changes to ‘the way of doing things’ can often cause challenges in an organisation. Many businesses are opting for ‘self-service’ cultures where employees manage their own day to day transactional activities. This type of transformation can lead to a big push back from the workforce.

Process – One of the most integral needs for successful adoption. Many businesses fail when it comes to process training; businesses will invest in software training, forgetting that process training is equally as critical. Through AppLearn’s experience, blending both software and process learning is essential.

Behaviour – Digital transformation projects will often require people to behave differently. New expectations are required for users to engage in a new process or system. This often requires strong communications and skills based training.

Software – This is an area where businesses come unstuck. They want to answer the ‘how’questions from users; How do I use this tool or how do I complete this task in a system?. Most of the questions we see from users are ‘what and why?’. Confidence and competence will affect the quality of engagement with an application. Focusing on sustainable ways to deliver a tailored learning and support experience are key.

Skills – In many instances, an employee will require new skills to engage with a business change or a specific technology. I was recently in discussion with an organisation that had implemented a new Cloud HR technology. The average age of their workforce was very young (27). Their CHRO explained,

‘we don’t have a software adoption problem, our workforce doesn’t have the skills and experience to execute quality processes.’

I can guarantee that your adoption challenges will sit across more than one of the above areas. We do see trends in certain industries having issues in specific areas. We also see generational trends when adopting digital transformation change.

Therefore, it is important to look at the bigger picture. Some people think that a software’s ‘intuitiveness’ can solve all of their problems. Please see another article here.

In not looking at adoption in this way businesses will continue to invest in technologies and not realise the benefits from their investment. They may also fall into the same trap that many other businesses do thinking this this must be a software adoption problem.

One thing we know for sure, if we can help employees embrace digital change by concentrating on challenges in each of the above categories, then we can ensure a smoother transition to digital transformation which will deliver more value back to colleagues and the business.

5 things to take away

  1. Understand that adoption and sustained adoption of your digital transformation will have a direct impact on the value that you derive from your investment.
  2. Adoption issues extend beyond just ‘how to use the software’. Focus on helping the workforce embrace each area.
  3. Neither the vendor or the SI alone can solve all the potential adoption challenges you may encounter.
  4. Implement sustainable solutions that accommodate frequent business and technology change. Solve tomorrows problems today.
  5. Enjoy the process because digital transformation can be awesome!


About the Author: Andrew Barlow is the Director, Product Strategy at AppLearn, a leading provider of cloud technologies designed to help organizations adopt large technology transformation projects. After years of experience evaluating the relationship between people and technology, Andrew’s brainchild was the ADOPT platform. A people-centric support tool designed to help people embrace change and technology. Andrew is a driven innovator that loves to solve problems through technology. You can follow Andrew at https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewbarlowapplearn/