The Ultimate Digital Adoption Guide
Whether you want to know what digital adoption is or want to improve it within your organization, this guide shares everything you need to know.
Digital adoption is a foundational part of having an effective workforce and successful software investments. After all, if nobody is using the applications you’re paying for, never mind using them well, you won’t get the benefit of the software—no matter how hard you try. Despite this, awareness and understanding of digital adoption isn’t where it should be, even if it is growing.
According to the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) State of the Market Report 2021 from Everest Group, the DAP market grew by around 50% despite the pandemic. Moreover, the study predicts growth of up to 80% in the next few years.
In addition to this, Constellation Research’s 2021 CIO survey found a similar curve, with 27% of IT leaders now employing some form of DAP solution to maximize IT uptake and adoption—way up from previous years.
However you look at it, organizations are beginning to understand the importance of digital adoption as a solution to providing agility, consistency and resilience across their key applications.
This guide is designed to define the space and teach you a proven digital adoption framework that you can tweak to boost any application, process or goal. We know this because we’ve used it to help many global businesses to reduce support tickets, rework and inefficiencies.
There’s a lot to cover, but we’ve kept this as jargon-free and straightforward as possible. Each of the chapters contains subsections and links to further reading, but by the end of this guide you’ll be ready to drive software success in your business.
- Digital adoption basics
- How to find digital adoption challenges
- How to improve digital adoption
- How to measure digital adoption
- How to prioritize digital adoption
Digital adoption basics
What is digital adoption?
In its simplest form, digital adoption is about helping people to use and embrace technology. It’s about making sure the software you’ve invested in is working hard and delivering the value you thought it would.
Typically used in relation to business applications, this definition can be expanded to include internal teams, external customers or entire companies. But whether used on a personal or organizational level, digital adoption efforts will always be focused on improving the engagement, experience and effectiveness of digital tools and workflows.
It is a common misconception for digital adoption to be linked to measurements like the number of users accessing a system or for it to be seen as a one-off achievement. However, digital adoption is not concerned only with the availability or apparent usage of technology.
Instead, digital adoption is about making sure every employee interaction with corporate technology is as efficient and as high quality as possible. In other words, ensuring the technology delivers the maximum possible value to the employee and to the business. It is focused on ensuring business applications are used well and in an efficient way to achieve expected outcomes.
Strong digital adoption across an organization not only enables and maintains the original business case for an app, but provides measurable benefits, from improved productivity and satisfaction to reduced support costs and time to value.
However, for enterprise software to deliver its intended business value, it must be fully adopted by the people using it. To us, this comes down to achieving a combination of participation, speed and data quality.
In terms of participation, this means ensuring all users are engaging with the software and completing the required transactions. Speed means not only that users are completing transactions quickly, but not having to waste time seeking support when its needed. Finally, data quality is about accurate user inputs as well as the resulting business intelligence that enable good decision making.
While the use of a digital adoption platform (more on this later) like AppLearn’s is necessary to make sure of and measure success, digital adoption is ultimately a people problem and, like people, it should be supported inside and outside of technology.
Before we dig deeper into why digital adoption is important, we should clear up how it overlaps with related but distinct disciplines. If you already appreciate why this matters, you can skip ahead for an introduction to digital adoption platforms or to learn an effective digital adoption strategy you can apply to your organization.
Is digital adoption different to product onboarding?
It is not uncommon for onboarding to be considered the start and end of digital adoption, but this is a mistake.
In its simplest form, product onboarding is about helping a new user to get familiar with a new product. While this is clearly linked to digital adoption, it is only a single piece of a bigger picture.
Onboarding is typically broken down into one-time processes, a chain of information and instructions designed to introduce first-time users to new product or feature and how they can use it.
However effective an onboarding process is, it is often an early-days, one-time event. While new onboarding can be delivered every time software updates or when users appear to be forgetting what they were taught, it is typically used as a plaster rather than a root issue fix.
In contrast to this, digital adoption should always be a continual, strategic consideration. While users who are onboarded well are more likely to understand a product, adopt it and use it effectively in the short-term, there is more to digital adoption than onboarding.
While product onboarding focuses on initial information share, digital adoption drills into improving the ongoing employee experience. It is a constant, ongoing concern, not just for new users or products.
Is digital adoption the same as change management?
Despite some overlap, change management and digital adoption are not the same thing.
At a high level, change management can be broken down into two different types. The first is concerned with managing change across a business and the second is related to computer systems. It’s the first of these that is sometimes confused with digital adoption, and it is easy to see why.
This type of change management tends to focus on ensuring change initiatives involving new processes or products connect with the workforce and get the expected results. While digital adoption should support the aims and sentiment of change management, it is only focused on helping users and organizations to get the most out of products and applications.
That’s not to say people aren’t a priority for digital adoption. The whole point of it is to help users embrace technology and use it effectively, it just approaches this differently.
Another key difference from change management is that digital adoption is not just concerned with new products, but the continuous improvement of existing applications. It is a continual consideration, not just linked to change.
By identifying friction, inefficiencies and wasted time within applications then intervening to remove these at the source via in-app interventions using a digital adoption platform, digital adoption looks to improve user experiences and efficiency, rather than managing the transition itself.
If change management is concerned with how change is handled within organizations, digital adoption is concerned with how the use of business applications is optimized.
Why is digital adoption important?
In short, having a digital adoption strategy is the only way to make sure you’re getting the maximum value out of business applications. You need to know this to avoid paying for software that nobody is using, or at least using well.
Many business leaders and applications owners make this mistake because they’re bought into a solution or the benefits it promises, but don’t consider digital adoption—sometimes even assuming that new tech will just be adopted.
We know this because companies spend hundreds of thousands every year on software, if not millions. In fact, the global spending on business software is comfortably in the 12-figure range. That’s a lot of money, and the expectation is that software will deliver value worth more to the business than its cost.
However, many of these projects fail to deliver the value the company set out to realize. Various academic research puts the failure rate of transformation projects at roughly 70%. In other words, most businesses have made software investments that haven’t delivered the value they thought it would.
The reason behind many of these tends to boil down to poor digital adoption. Software may have been bought for all the right reasons, but it’s not delivering value because people aren’t interacting with it in the way the buyer or business thought they would.
According to our own digital adoption research almost half (48%) of executives say they entirely agree that successful adoption of cloud-based technology is a priority. But despite this, 90% cannot easily measure against business outcomes and we know digital adoption platforms aren’t used as widely should be—even if this looks set to change.
With the increase in remote working, digital adoption is even more important. Employees are using more software than ever before, and they have no one to turn to if they don’t know what to do with it. Without measuring and improving the employee experience in a scalable, convenient way, it’s more than likely the rate of software success will drop even further.
Long story short, digital adoption is important because it’s a way you can make your software investments work harder and add more value to your business and your users.
How to find digital adoption challenges
Signs of a digital adoption problem
Now you know what digital adoption is and why it’s important, let’s get into identifying challenges in your organization.
While the user and process insights unlocked by a digital adoption platform are necessary to make sure of issues and drive priorities through data, it is possible to pick up on the signs without. That said, they aren’t always easy to spot and often hide in plain sight.
Before getting into the signs, it’s crucial to remember what digital adoption is all about. Firstly, that’s making sure every employee interaction with corporate technology is as efficient and as high quality as possible. Secondly, it’s ensuring technology delivers the maximum possible value to the employee and to the business.
With this, it would be easy to start looking for business-wide signs that an application isn’t being used well, in a timely fashion to achieve expected outcomes. However, if you don’t have the data to prove this, then the signs of a digital adoption problem start with the individual employee experience, then tend to permeate through the organization.
Employee challenges can be anything from low uptake, poor data quality, support ticket volume or even poor feedback. And in isolation, these may seem like an outlier rather than an outright digital adoption problem. The problem is, these individual issues snowball into organizational impacts including increased support costs, bad data and, most crucially, low return on investment from applications.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into these signs and associated impacts.
Without the analytical certainty of a digital adoption platform, the best sign of a digital adoption platform is poor user feedback. Whether you measure this through targeted means such as CSAT and NPS or overhearing complaints, you should pay attention any time you have a user giving negative feedback about an app. Comments like ‘it takes too long’, ‘it’s annoying when…’ or ‘it’s so frustrating having to…’ are indicative of an adoption problem.
While not feedback officially, support tickets are another source to consider when looking for digital adoption issues. It can be easy to see tickets in isolation, but this is a common trap to fall in to. If you can see that support ticket volumes coming in from an application are high, that means there’s likely a deeper adoption problem—especially if those tickets are related to “how do I…” type queries.
Low uptake and poor data quality are another to signs that go hand in hand. If you can see users aren’t logging in or not completing the processes required of them, then this is likely an adoption problem rather than an act of defiance. The same applies if you can see that the data users are entering into an application is inaccurate or insufficient.
Finally, rework levels and navigation burn are two more significant signs of an adoption problem. While vendors don’t typically make this kind of information available within in-built analytics, speaking to and observing your employees can reveal how much time is lost to in-app inefficiencies in crucial tasks or seeking support. If you’d like more on this, be sure to read the how to measure digital adoption section of this guide.
Where the above symptoms come from doesn’t really matter right now, that’s for later in the guide. What matters is acting on these signs and improving digital adoption before your business feels the brunt.
The organizational impacts of poor digital adoption
As mentioned previously, seeing signs like the above as individual issues can create bigger business problems. Hopefully, you don’t see any of your own organization in the below, but the impacts of poor digital adoption are worth covering quickly. After all, they are the reason why so many software investments don’t deliver their intended value.
Increased support costs are sometimes written off as a side effect of using software, whether new or otherwise. However, with better digital adoption this can be avoided. And it should, as the associated costs and wastage of high-ticket volumes often negates any value from using an application in the first place. We’ll come onto the preemptive in-app alternative offered by digital adoption platforms later, but the avoidable cost of support tickets shouldn’t be accepted or overlooked.
One of the key reasons for buying software, often right up there with convenience and cost savings, is to boost employee efficiency and satisfaction. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see how some of the employee challenges can quickly damage this. If your employees aren’t working quicker than before the software rolled out or are losing more time to certain tasks, then the value of the application is affected. And this is the exact same for their overall happiness with the tool, as without buy-in it’s a matter of time before effective usage drops or people leave due to frustration.
Everything in the last few paragraphs ultimately creates low return on investment from applications, and this isn’t something we need to dwell on. However, a final hidden cost of poor digital adoption is the impact poor data quality can have on business decision making. Bad data doesn’t only create rework for employees, it can cause missteps and poor investments before you even know it’s a problem—causing months of work and planning to be based on inaccuracies.
But that’s enough of the issues and impacts linked to poor digital adoption. You should now have more of a grasp on how to spot the early signs and why it’s crucial to act on them. Let’s get into how to improve digital adoption and our proven model which you can apply before or after you invest in a digital adoption platform.
How to improve digital adoption
A proven digital adoption strategy
Years of seeing organizations succeed and fail when implementing applications has given us unique insight into both the technology and psychology. It has allowed us to see common trends in adoption problems throughout each implementation and build a digital adoption model designed to prevent them.
While our digital adoption platform is the technical solution to these digital adoption challenges, our Six Pillars of Digital Adoption model is the theory behind it—and is something you can apply to your business.
In simple terms, whatever the tech, whatever the project phase and whatever the complexity, adoption challenges fall into six clear pillars. When considering the impact that an investment in digital technology will have on your business and your users, you can use the six pillars to guide your change, communication, training and support strategy to ensure it is a success.
The Six Pillars of Digital Adoption
As mentioned previously in this guide, digital adoption is first and foremost a people problem. However, we have seen that it’s often software itself that’s regarded as being the main culprit for poor uptake and subsequent poor ROI.
We’ve seen many businesses replace internal technologies with other competitive products only to experience the exact same challenges. You may have even gone through similar yourself. This demonstrates that software is not the only item in play and digital adoption extends beyond it.
While the employee experience of using software is crucial, it is only one part of the digital adoption puzzle. The rest is on how you and your business manage the more human elements. Following our observations and many years of cognitive behavior research done in partnership with a leading university, we created our six-pillar model to codify and communicate this.
Let’s take a look at each of the pillars and how they should be approached to boost digital adoption.
Is your technology or transformation a change in strategy for the organization and the users that will be interacting with it? Examples of this would be a new recruitment technology that allows you to source candidates through social channels whereas before this was facilitated through job boards. This would represent a change in strategy that will ultimately affect end users.
Does your current or proposed application represent a change in culture or ‘the way we’ve always done things’? The most common example of this is organizations that look to create a self-service culture for day-to-day transactional activities like booking leave or submitting expenses. In the past, this would have been facilitated through HR and as such requires a mindset shift.
Are you implementing a technology that will require people to behave in a different way? This is often the case with transformations that require people to absorb new responsibility or accountability as part of a wider business change. It is also very common for processes that require human intervention, such as recruitment or sales.
Is your technology an enabler of a wider business process? In many cases it is, giving us benefits to complete the process better, faster and more accurately. Processes, however, can be complex. They can require multiple sign off steps and human interaction or intervention. As such, a person’s ability to adopt a process is equally as important as the technology or the materials that support it.
Does your technology require your users to adopt new skills in order to execute tasks to a high degree of quality? This may mean the ability to analyze and identify things in a different way than they have done before or perhaps engage with people or technology in a new manner.
Inevitably, your users will have to, in some way, interact with a new technology. This will almost certainly mean users will require an element of training in order to be able to navigate through and complete tasks. Remember that ‘intuitive UI and UX’ is in the eye of the beholder.
We believe that if businesses use these six pillars to shape their strategic thinking, they are much more likely to create a strategy that leads to high digital adoption and software value. These six pillars are woven into our product, our implementation processes, and our customer success processes to ensure customers are gaining the full benefit of the years of research we’ve done.
And while this framework is an effective way to approach technology value and change in your organization, it can only take you so far by itself. The next step is to learn more about digital adoption platforms, the only technology that supports these pillars.
What is a digital adoption platform?
A digital adoption platform (DAP), sometimes referred to as a digital adoption solution, is software designed to ensure business applications support the people and organizations that use them. It does this by making business applications easier to use, analyze and improve, typically by adding in-app support and user analytics.
A DAP gives people the convenience, experience and intelligence they need to be as productive as possible—even when multiple applications or processes are involved. For end-users, this means useful guidance and access to help right when and where they need it. For application owners and stakeholders, this means making it easy to analyze and optimize workflows. For business leaders, this means straightforward insight into software value.
How does a digital adoption platform work?
The most visible function of a digital adoption platform is the embedded in-app support offered to end-users. This is simply layered on top of the UI of existing applications, and usually consists of step-by-step guidance for key or complex tasks, as well as useful knowledge content.
Making this support available in-app, at the click of a button is designed to make software easier to use and task completions more accurate, both key goals of a digital adoption platform.
The second crucial component of a digital adoption platform is enabling the measurement of digital adoption itself. By going beyond the data and analytics functionality typically provided by software vendors, the unique tracking of in-app interactions makes it simple to track metrics such as engagement with support content, time spent on tasks and the value of software itself.
For application stakeholders, service delivery teams and C-level leaders, this makes it easy to demonstrate software performance and highlight problems to target with interventions.
As a digital adoption platform can enable this across entire technology estates, it’s able to bring consistency to support and measurement of all applications. As software suites grow and become more complex, this will only become more important, and in turn make DAPs more prevalent.
If you’d like to learn more about this technology, you can find out more about our digital adoption platform.
Is a digital adoption platform easy to implement and manage?
As well as the functionality of a digital adoption platform, it’s important to consider how it is implemented and managed on a day-to-day basis.
Typically, a digital adoption platform is implemented into your setup as a browser extension or integrated directly into your software. Depending on the vendor, this will either be a managed process or rely on you to deliver the roll out.
The main consideration around implementing a DAP is time. As you’ll want to get the in-app support and analytics in place to both drive and prove value, you’ll want to get up and running quickly while ensuring the right elements are in place.
For the ongoing management, it’s important to find a DAP that is light-touch and doesn’t require lots of administration or code knowledge. Again, depending on the vendor, a level of service and consultancy may be offered to ensure you’re able to get the value from a DAP without needing a big time investment.
At AppLearn, we look to get our implementations up-and-running within 4 weeks, while managing the entire process through both up-front consultancy and hypercare services. If you’d like to know more, you can learn about our approach.
Everything including in this chapter, from the six-pillar model to the ongoing management of a digital adoption platform is aimed at driving improvements and software value. But how do you know you’re improving something if you don’t measure it? It’s about time we got into the intricacies of measuring digital adoption.
How to measure digital adoption
What does digital adoption measurement look like?
Measuring digital adoption comes down to having two things: an understanding of what genuine digital adoption is and the ability to measure the metrics that matter.
While a digital adoption platform is required to access the data that proves whether an application is being used, and used well, this data is only as useful as what’s being tracked, and for how long.
To get a measure of true digital adoption, it is not enough to get a high-level snapshot on the number of log ins or visits to particular sections and equate this to success. Instead, it is vital to have an ongoing view on the usage of essential features, completion rates of key tasks and number of associates support tickets. Organizations should also go further and track how this impacts the business outcomes of their technology or enables their desired target operating model.
Just because an application is being used, it doesn’t mean it’s being used correctly, so quantifiable evidence of the latter is vital to any measurement. Simultaneously, digital adoption is not a one and done process that can be achieved once then left forever. It is a complex, shifting process based on several variables, as the software, user interfaces and people within a business all change regularly.
Our own digital adoption research in 2020 found that 73% of businesses rolled out new enterprise Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions in the previous year, and despite a challenging global economy, over half (53%) said their budget for software initiatives would increase in the next year, signaling an ongoing appetite for tech investment.
However, when it comes to showing a return on this significant investment, only 45% have digital KPIs in place for all applications—making measuring successes against business outcomes a common challenge. In addition to this, only 12% of organizations measure the success of their software investments beyond the initial 12 months of implementation.
While the anecdotal approval of apps will always matter, measuring digital adoption comes down to having sustainable, undeniable evidence of successful outcomes.
The digital adoption metrics that matter
The data made available through your DAP is crucial to understanding who in your organization is using the software, how often and how well they engage with it, and how you can make improvements to both the employee experience and commercial outcomes.
One key reason for this is the granularity and detail of analytics a DAP unlocks. This goes far beyond the insight typically offered by vendors. which tend to focus on usage e.g. who’s logging in, when they’re logging in, how many tasks are being completed.
As a result, the questions you can answer are much more sophisticated, meaning you can make data-driven decisions on how best to drive value and user experience from your technology, when previously this would have been guesswork.
Typical vendor insights measure usage, so things like:
- Measuring usage
- Number of logins
- Number of widgets clicked
- Number of times video played
- Number of help searches
- Average time spent in app
While this also varies depending on the platform and vendor, our DAP measures outcomes so it can answer questions like the following:
- Are users accessing Tier 0 support in app?
- Are we reducing support tickets?
- Which user groups are taking more than 5 minutes to request absence?
- Which process in Workday has the most rework?
- What journey are the users taking to navigate to a common task?
- What areas do users need more support in?
And when you’re able to answer these questions, you’re able to reveal real value and report on digital adoption in a way that matters to your business, not just your project. Crucially, this also unlocks the ability to find and fix issues before they are even reported.
Another helpful way to identify the digital adoption metrics that truly matter is to tie them to the six pillars covered earlier in this guide.
Here are some ways you can link reporting to the six pillars by using digital adoption analytics:
- Pillar 1: Communicate the associated strategy and value
Metrics: User feedback scores and commonalities; engagement with strategy comms material
- Pillar 2: Help people adopt a self-service/direct access culture
Metrics: Engagement with self-service; number of support tickets
- Pillar 3: Communicate and train around expected behaviors
Metrics: Proportion of correctly completed processes; level of rework
- Pillar 4: Train around best practice process engagement
Metrics: Efficiency of process completion; amount of time wasted on navigation
- Pillar 5: Deliver associated skills training
Metrics: Proportion of correctly completed processes; level of rework
- Pillar 6: Train around software usage
Metrics: Engagement with software; completion of key processes; support tickets
Hopefully this summary of what digital adoption metrics are and why they matter has cleared up the difference between real value and vanity metrics. And while the benefit may be clear, the final section of this guide tackles how you should prioritize these measurements and make digital adoption a key success factor in your organization.
How to prioritize digital adoption
Identifying the apps to target
When it comes to implementing digital adoption, sometimes the starting point will be obvious. There will be a particular app or process that’s troublesome, inefficient or receiving lots of support tickets.
Other times where to start is not so clear cut. In this case we’d recommend looking into a DAP that can be deployed in discovery mode. Through this kind of implementation, a DAP can log every user interaction with software and report back automatically where the improvement opportunities are, even before the support itself is rolled out.
However, whether your platform of choice supports this or not, you will have to ultimately decide where to focus your efforts in the first instance. And when making this decision, it’s best to start with the areas of the business that drive value or that everybody cares about.
If you’re role fits within a single vertical, this should be straightforward. But if your day-to-day involves more multi-app, cross-functional journeys, look at tying everything back to time wasted, cost savings and, where possible, areas of the business that generate revenue. In addition to this, bringing your focus back to the six pillars will ensure you’re targeting the right areas.
If you have a vision of a DAP that sits across all employee-facing apps, providing a consistent user-friendly experience across all corporate technology, you’ll most likely have to build to this point. Starting in the areas where you can make the most immediate time and cost impact will help you to create a compelling business case, but there still may be barriers to overcome.
Overcoming Digital Adoption Platform barriers
One of the most common barriers to investing in a digital adoption platform is the perception that a serious adoption problem doesn’t exist. In these instances, it’s important to ask whether those involved are really thinking about adoption in its truest sense.
Adoption is about more than just getting people to log in. In fact, it means getting end users and the business to realize maximum value from the solution. It should be looked at as a combination of participation, efficiency and data quality, not just top-level usage. Refer back to the signs of a problem section of this guide to equip yourself for this.
Another barrier, as with most tech solutions, is budget. Everybody has to go through the process of justifying a business case for a DAP but focusing on productivity gains and the time/cost savings linked to more efficient employees quickly makes a DAP’s value clear and compelling.
As mentioned in the previous section, think about giving time back to the business through things like support tickets and rework. Even some basic calculations of these productivity savings will rapidly create a strong business case.
Finally, not having the resource to configure a DAP or having complex, bespoke processes are also flagged as common reasons why a DAP may not work, but the tech itself often addresses these issues.
Most teams, whether HR, Sales, Finance or other, are resource constrained. On top of this, most organizations have unique ways of working, but if the tech supporting these elements isn’t correctly used the problems only get worse. A DAP prevents this from happening by doing a lot of the work to find and fix for you.
Everything above should give you enough to understand the concept of digital adoption and how you can boost it across your business.
When our customers have taken this approach, they’ve been able to get results like a 70% reduction in support tickets, a 76% decrease in rework and 40% reduction in employee time wasted.
If you’d like to know more about specific areas, be sure to check out our digital adoption reports and webinars which dig deep into key topics. These will put you on the cutting edge and give you a deeper understanding of the best approaches, tools and measurements.
But if you’d like to learn more about how AppLearn can help you with digital adoption, request a demo using the form below to see our platform and speak to a member of our team. Otherwise, we hope you’re now more confident in both knowing what digital adoption is, but also in improving it across your organization.
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