Cultural and behavioral changes are the most significant barriers to successful digital transformation within organizations. Therefore, digital transformation can only be reached if a shift in organizational culture is achieved. User adoption is one of the key aspects that need to be addressed to inspire a cultural shift. An organization may have invested a tremendous amount of time and money into digital transformation. Still, it may all be wasted if users refuse to change their work habits with new technologies.
Before we continue with user resistance and user adoption challenges, let us have a look at the main differences between three crucial terms: digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation.
Digitization is defined as a process that changes information from analog to digital form (Gartner Glossary).
Example: Converting hand-written notes into digital notes with OCR.
Digitalization is defined as a process of employing digital technologies and information to transform business operations (Gartner Glossary).
Example: Implementation of an ELN system into a research laboratory. With the new system in place, the laboratory will ensure data integrity, increase efficiency and improve communication and collaboration.
Digital transformation is a process that aims to improve an organization by triggering significant changes to its properties. To achieve that, digitalization specialists leverage a combination of information, computing, communication, and connecting technologies (Vial, 2019). Digital transformation can only happen when leadership recognizes the strategic importance of making profound organizational changes to the company, that is customer-driven rather than technology-driven.
Example: A company may decide to run several digitalization projects, but just the implementation of new systems will not lead to a digital transformation of a company. The management will, however, have to decide that the company will continue to innovate in the digital space and make that the company’s no. 1 priority. In the long run, this may completely change how the company operates, e.g. a production line may be completely AI-driven, customer interaction is online and paperless, and/or a company may acquire another company with digital technology that fits into the long-term vision of the company.
When can we speak of successful user adoption?
User adoption is successful when users transition from an old system to a new one that is better, faster, and more efficient. During the implementation of changes, you will highly likely encounter resistance where users will want to maintain the status quo and insist that there is no need for change. Some common user objections can be predicted and managed.
“I don’t want to change because”:
- I am happy with the current system.
- I helped establish the current system and it works well. There is no need for a new one.
- My schedule is busy already, I don’t have time for a change.
- The new system looks complicated and it will take too much time for me to get familiar with.
- People who are making the change don’t understand how we work. I don’t trust them.
- How will I benefit from the new system? I don’t see the added value.
What management needs to understand is that resistance is a function of disruption which cannot be avoided and needs to be managed. It should make sure to communicate that objections do not eliminate the need for change and should not allow exceptions or settle for ultimatums. Consensus may never be reached, but the need is still there, and management needs to lead the way, hold people accountable, and enforce changes that will benefit the company.
Tips for successful user adoption
Here are a few steps that can help increase your chance of users successfully adopting new digital tools or processes:
1. Identify key stakeholders and explain the reasons for change
- Management needs to have a clear vision of the desired culture and manage the execution of it as one of their top priorities.
- Continuously communicate the upcoming changes in a clear, honest, and transparent way.
- Stress the importance of the digitalization process, raise awareness, and motivate people to collaborate.
2. Establish a steering committee in charge of carrying out the digitalization projects or strategy
- Include key members of a steering committee such as CDO, CIO, or any other board member/person in charge of process management.
- It should involve representatives from all stakeholders within the company, including end-users.
- Make sure that everyone has a voice in the process.
3. Define the project objectives and timeline
- Plan, prioritize, and execute projects.
- Present project objectives and timeline to the employees.
- Make sure to check for understanding, encourage debate, acknowledge ideas, communicate progress, and provide a feedback mechanism.
4. Set-up Key Experience Indicators and monitor progress
- Focus on user-centered metrics or Key Experience Indicators (KEIs), e.g. happiness, engagement, and adoption.
5. Start with a pilot phase and gradually expand to a larger scale
- The pilot phase will provide you with important insights into what works and what should be improved.
- Gradually expand to a larger scale, possibly using an agile approach, a gradual expansion of the strategy in waves or sprints.
There are several options when deciding which departments to involve in digital transformation projects first.
1. Evaluate departments or units based on the technology acceptance level – the more digital-embracing units should be the first ones to make the transition to a new system. This is because your first adopters will become the promotors of these new systems, they will help train new users, and become ambassadors of the digital transformation within the organization.
2. Start with units where there is a pressing business need that a new system can address. You should always seek to improve processes and the best return on investment.
Regardless of the approach, you should continuously communicate the importance of digital transformation. Remember, you would like to establish a digital culture and good practices in change management, so that next time a new system or process is implemented more smoothly.
1. Vial G, 2019. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems. Understanding digital transformation: A review and a research agenda. (Registration needed)