The question of how to measure value is fairly common among practitioners, executives and stakeholders of digital workplace initiatives and programs. Measuring value isn’t simple, and a consensus answer is likely as far from reach as is a common definition for digital workplace. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the question or pose possible answers.
Depending on the source, one of the textbook definitions of the term value will be something along the lines of the “relative worth, merit, utility or importance.” One of the key aspects of this definition is that value is relative.
What is it relative to? In my opinion, a few things.
Value is the result of achieving positive outcomes by the amount of adoption that you sustain, less your investment over time.
Mathematically, we could represent it as:
Because initial investment is typically large, it is often difficult to realize significant value quickly. This is proven out and applied in the real world through the need for sustained adoption programs that go well beyond the few weeks following a new product launch.
Viewing value from this perspective helps put adoption metrics more appropriately in their place — they are one data point among several that factor in to measuring success. We can have a lower percentage of adoption and still realize proportionally high levels of value if our outcomes are significant or our investment is proportionally low.
On the converse, we can also achieve significant value through small incremental wins if we are getting those at enterprise scale and again with proportionally appropriate investment.
Through this lens, I’m not assigning any significant definition to the term adoption and can simply represent it as a metric denoting usage of the target product, system, or platform.
What Variables in the Value Equation Can We Control the Most?
To some degree, we have a good amount of control on all four variables. Understanding how we can influence each can help guide us in determining which have the highest priority and where we should focus the most intention for the greatest impact.
Outcomes are what we set them to be in most cases. Upfront, in any prospective work to gain operational efficiencies or enable new capabilities, we need to work to clearly establish the desired business outcomes that we hope to achieve. In this regard, this variable is extremely influenceable since we have a lot of control over it.
When setting business outcomes, we have the option to be generic or specific. A generic outcome may be something like “increase productivity” — a great goal, but since it is so generic it is will be hard to measure. A more specific outcome may be something like “reduce the processing time for new request approvals by 15 percent.” This is much more specific, easy to measure, and will provide clear guidance on what to focus on when improving processes and behaviors.
The drawback to these types of specific outcomes is that they are somewhat too specific and don’t provide a true picture of how impactful and far-reaching digital workplace solutions can be for an organization. We don’t implement a new digital workplace toolkit to make a single process or two more efficient.
Perhaps we set out with the more generic variety of desired outcomes and use them as categories where we later find and detail out results that provide more specific and measurable details. This can work in some use cases (such as “enabling innovation”) but may not make for a convincing selling point or business case early on. By this approach, one of the outcomes we are setting out to achieve is increased productivity and we’d look to later document all of the process efficiencies the organization eventually realizes.
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Everyone likes to talk about adoption. So much so, that it has taken on more meaning than it probably ever was meant to have or deserved. When I hear someone say they have good adoption, I typically ask a series of probing questions to get a better picture of what they are thinking. The same goes for when anyone talks about needing higher levels of adoption. Typically, in the simplest terms, when people talk about adoption they are referring to whether or not their users are actually using whatever it is that they want them to use.
I may seem a bit cynical regarding adoption. And, I suppose I am if that is the only measure being used to gauge success or the realization of value. By itself, adoption tells you next to nothing and isn’t an indicator of success.
However, adoption is important. We absolutely need people using the thing we want them to use … assuming we talked to them about it beforehand and established some clear business outcomes (aka reasons) for using it. So, assuming that, how can we influence adoption?
This is where adoption strategies come in. Adoption strategies could easily have been called marketing, but apparently that name was already taken by the commercial-facing teams. We influence our adoption/usage levels by employing adoption/marketing strategies that help our target audience understand what we are promoting and how it will be of some benefit to them.
Yep, adoption comes down to answering the age-old question, “What’s in it for me?”
Convey a strong and clear answer to this question and we will convert or attract users.
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Investment is a variable that has mostly clear, hard dollars that we can attach to it. However, the initial, external investment in purchasing products and services isn’t the only investment we are making. We also need to factor in the number of internal resources that are required to get to launch and into the ongoing maintenance and upkeep.
We can influence this variable through a variety of ways, but the most obvious and impactful will be in the decisions made on which products to put in the digital workplace toolkit. We have a few options to consider.
On-premises or cloud. On-premises solutions may have a higher upfront cost that drastically reduces over time with bursts of investment needed at intervals for upgrades and upkeep. Cloud services on the other hand typically have consistent fees associated with them.
Best of breed or platform suite. Best of breed solutions will likely cost more and more checks will be cut to more recipients. However, they could very likely help us more readily realize specific, desired outcomes. Platform suite solutions will typically give us a variety of capabilities at bundled pricing, but they are unlikely to be viewed as the leading solution in all or most capabilities.
Build or buy. We could always forego the best of breed versus suite debate altogether and decide to build our own digital toolkit. If we go this route, we are likely making significant investments in internal or external developers (and researchers, UX and UI designers, product owners, testers, etc., etc.) upfront and ongoing. We are also unlikely to see significant progress in what we could reasonably describe as a timely manner.
Which brings us to time. The time at which we want to measure results or expect to realize value is up to the organization. It is something that we should discuss and decide upon early and upfront with our stakeholders — an activity that many avoid or neglect to do.
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How Do I Use This Formula?
I’m not suggesting we actually try to use this as a mathematical formula by assigning numbers and dollars to it and coming up with some numeric representation of value. But we can use it as a framework to guide our efforts with a clearer understanding that we need to look beyond usage metrics.
Adoption should not be our end goal, but instead viewed as a component in the relationship between what we set out to do and what we achieve.
The variable that is most controllable and the most important is unique to each organization. By using a framework like this one, we can more easily articulate the nuances of achieving value and better establish business drivers at the onset of our efforts. This benefits us in a variety of ways but perhaps most importantly by aligning stakeholders on how we realize results at an appropriate scale with an acceptable expenditure and within an agreeable timeframe.