User adoption: The key to digital transformation success

How to make sure digital products return your investment

Many Atos experts and I, through the Digital Modernization Blog Series, have written about the different aspects of digital modernization and transformation programs.

However, one factor that deserves a more detailed discussion is the user adoption of digital products. Although user adoption is expected to be a part of the broader organizational change management (OCM) exercise required for product conceptualization, many organizations continue to lag behind their adoption targets.

The key reason behind adoption challenges is a lack of consistent rigor in the post-product-rollout phase. This is mainly observed when a product is rolled out incrementally, and the number of target users increases substantially with every incremental rollout.

If your organization faces similar challenges with user adoption, the following σ-framework can help. Although it would be best to follow it at the start of product development and institutionalize it with the product rollouts, it can still help if applied at other stages of the product lifecycle.

0. Ambition

Before a digital product launch, the first step is to define the product objectives (quantitative and qualitative) and the change story.

As you conceptualize the product, you may have already identified the critical problems this product will solve for your organization. However, it is an excellent practice to go ahead and articulate the product objectives as clearly as possible and make them part of the change story.

You may ask why a change story is important so early in product development. The reason is that the change story drives the OCM that must take place as the product is being developed and rolled out to the target users.

1. Assessment

This is the first recurring step that will continue throughout the product lifecycle. The key activities in this phase include baselining user adoption and the impact on the product objectives after product release.

Organizations can take three actions to baseline user/product adoption:

  • Identify potential users to ensure you have a quantitative base to start measuring the adoption.
  • Assess expected usage. Depending on the nature of the product, you may expect users to access it every hour, every day, or once per week. Multiplying that by the number of users will give you a baseline number we call the expected usage index (EUI).
    For example, if 40 users are expected to use the product once per week, the monthly EUI is 160 (40*4). However, if usage will vary by user role, you may calculate and sum it up for different roles.
  • Find current usage. Now, you measure the current average usage and convert it into a percentage of the EUI.
    • For example, if you recorded only 100 logins to the product last month, the current usage would be ~60% against the EUI of 160.

By baselining the product adoption, we can define critical actions to improve it. Most of these actions will fall into the categories of awareness and ambassadorship.

2. Awareness

In most cases where product adoption is not up to the mark, product awareness is the most likely cause. To increase awareness, product managers and owners can drive training programs, role-based guidance and mentorship; and leverage internal or external marketing and communication teams.

  • Training: It’s essential to develop and roll out a well-defined training module in cooperation with your learning and development teams. Explore the possibility of having digital training tools such as gamified courses and online contests, plus periodic instructor-led evangelization sessions.
  • Role-based guidance: Most enterprise digital products are built for different user personas, so product managers must ensure that they create forums to facilitate role-based guidance to these different personas.
  • Use internal marketing: This is one of the most critical and often forgotten aspects of product evangelization. Marketing teams have established processes to create a buzz around various internal policies and systems. Leveraging that function to launch a new product or improve the adoption of an existing product gives immediate benefits.

3. Ambassadorship

Besides improving awareness, the product managers (PMs) and product owners (POs) can also designate product ambassadors.

These are the individuals — innovators and early adopters — who love the product and use it more frequently than others.

The general rule of thumb is that ~10% of all users may fall in this category.

Many organizations face challenges in ensuring adoption of new tools and ways of working.

This σ-framework can help.

Such individuals must be identified and incentivized to become product ambassadors who can mentor a small set (5-10) of other target users.

If the number of target users is more than 50, this process can be repeated every few weeks.

4. Adoption

Finally, the key to achieving any product’s objectives is improving product adoption by pulling the following three levers:

  • Create a sense of urgency: Every product has a raison d’être (reason for being). Most of the time, it comes from a sense of urgency to either drive business change or mitigate the impact of an external change. This sense of urgency must be communicated to all users and help toward mitigating actions.
  • Ensure usage by leadership: The most vital factor in achieving the objectives of any organizational change or a digital product is to enlist senior leaders in adopting and promoting it. It influences the rest of their teams and helps improve adoption.
  • Keep it part of the conversation: PMs and POs may also want to list all the formal and/or ad-hoc forums where the product should be used. Suppose they can ensure that the digital product (vis-à-vis another similar alternative) is the frame of reference in those forums. In that case, they can rest assured that product adoption will increase over time.

After completing the adoption phase, PMs/POs can go back to the assessment stage and restart the cycle to drive continuous improvement in product capabilities, product adoption and the product’s ability to achieve the intended objectives.

Applying this systematic, methodical σ-framework will ensure that no digital product fails in delivering a return on the investments made to develop and maintain it.

By Manish Jain, Principal Consultant/Director

Posted on: August 16, 2021

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About Manish Jain
Principal Consultant/Director
Based in Toronto, Manish Jain is a director of Digital Transformation Consulting with specialization in Agile Industry 4.0 solutions. He is also a member of Atos Expert Group on Immersive Experience, and Decarbonization Special Interest Group. Before his current role, he was heading Sales Strategy & Operations at Atos Syntel. With an MBA in Strategy and Finance, and 16 years of experience in technology strategy, architecture, design and development, Manish has served clients in multiple industries. He is passionate about customer experience and digital technologies and believes that the customer should always come before technology.

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