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.


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.

Our clients often attribute the lack of interest in a portal to the absence of specific bells and whistles. We hear sentiments like, “If we just add ‘X’, our employees will get on board.” HA!

The truth is, utilization almost never comes down to a single feature. To drive meaningful use of your tools, solutions and services, you must identify and address the underlying issues affecting user experience. Skip that essential step, and you are likely to roll out a shiny new tool that falls short on meaningful use.

Funny how many times we hear about SharePoint implementations not being as successful as imagined and then we find out that zero research was put into the process. As the saying goes -- you finish how you start!

Do the Research. Get it Right.

What does it take to deliver technology that will get used? In short, the answer is data, and that means research.

Research is an absolutely critical step in the process of developing a new tool or portal. Data from and about end users has the power to identify the shortcomings of technologies and to point to what it will take ensure that a new iteration performs better.

In the field, there have been a number of methodologies that get to the crux of employee needs and lay the groundwork for efficient portal or tool development. Some of the most successful, in my experience, are the following:

  • Personas and Scenarios -- profiles of the types of end users who will use the portal or tool and the work that they will do there. Personas and scenarios account for a range of variables such as remote work locations, disparate devices and diverse content needs. Although there may be dozens or hundreds of different roles within a company, these exercises often make it possible to condense end users into a handful of categories around which your portal or tool can be designed.
  • Hassel Maps -- an analysis of essential job functions and of any roadblocks or unnecessary steps involved in current systems. Hassel maps help to illustrate the “ideal state” of a new portal or tool, which guides design, improves UX, and encourages meaningful use.
  • Story Boards -- illustrations of how various personas will interact with a new portal or tool. Story boards help to shed light on user experience by demonstrating real-world scenarios and the role that new technology will play in addressing systemic challenges.
  • Road Maps -- a project plan that breaks the process down into manageable pieces. The development of a new portal or tool can be daunting (especially if you invest in doing it the right way). The potential rewards are enormous, and the work is worth doing -- road maps help to clear the path for success.

This research is the key to success. It makes it possible to design exceptional user experiences and to deliver solutions that do more than sit idly on desktops. Research informs the kind of UX that has the power to turn “users” into meaningful use and makes it possible for the enterprise to make the most of technology investments.

Image courtesy of Stephen Rees (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Kevin, see his The Mobile Enterprise: Still a Ways to Go