In the push for adoption are enterprises focusing on the wrong thing?

I did a little experiment today. I typed “adoption” into the search window at CMSWire. I got 2,500 results. Aside from asking the obvious question; did search max out at 2500 -- it also asks a bigger question -- how many enterprise clients are looking to drive adoption!

As an industry, we are obsessed with adoption. We rely on that one metric to tell us essentially everything about a tool: is it well designed? Is it effective? Do people like using it? Is it priced competitively? Every sales person wants to quote adoption numbers -- “tell me how many people are using our solutions ….”

As a computing and enterprise society we are launching more and more “ERP” solutions; Yammer, Jive, SharePoint, Workday, SAP, corporate App Stores, mobile this and that. As we launch new tools and employee portals in the enterprise, we look to adoption to gauge our success. And much like the consumer market, the tools and portals with the best user experience garner the highest adoption rates.

However, adoption in the consumer market isn't what it seems. Could you imagine an airline having to train their client base on how to buy a plane ticket (AA take notice!)? That airline would be a colossal failure. Same for your solutions in your corporate environment: you want your users -- clients -- to have the ability to easily navigate and find, share and use information without training them -- you want a good experience!

In the consumer market adoption is synonymous with number of users and is often used as an all-purpose metric. The enterprise is not the consumer market.

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In the enterprise, the number of “users” can be virtually unrelated to the number of people who actually use a tool in a meaningful way. If you look at adoption of a single ERP solution in the Enterprise you will see the tails of the bell curve to be long and flat -- power users in the middle tend not to be the average corporate citizen.

Think about your own work computer. How many of your desktop icons mean almost nothing to you?

Regardless of whether you ever use a program, the moment your employer signs a licensing agreement, you become a “user.” In the enterprise, a single stroke of the pen can add hundreds of thousands of “users.”

Better Questions. Better Answers.

It is clear to me that adoption numbers don't tell the whole story. So what might?

The time has come for the enterprise to shift its focus to metrics that really get at the quality of engagement -- things like frequency of use, quality of social collaborations, and improved efficiency in routine tasks. In short, we should be measuring the quality of the user experience -- actual meaningful use of technology.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. You can’t move the needle on UX without understanding the true nature of your current tools’ or portal’s shortcomings, and that means research.