Gaining Adoption & ROI for Your Software Projects

Dealing with the Secret Shame of Today's Stalled Software Deployment Efforts

August 14, 2003

Software suppliers need to focus on their customers’ speed of adoption and roll-out, end-user critical scenarios, and achieving ROI.


Many of our end-user clients have voiced a common set of concerns over the past 12 months: They are having difficulty making a business case for continued deployment of software and initiatives they invested in a year ago. For those of you who are waiting for business customers to increase their spending on software in 2003/2004, this is not a good sign.

What’s the crux of the problem? IT project managers are not seeing user adoption of the systems and software they’ve already deployed. Therefore, these projects aren’t achieving their original ROI targets. If you haven’t met your original ROI goals for the first phases of a project, the chances are slim of gaining more funding to continue roll-out and deployment and/or to add functionality.

Here’s a sample of the specific questions we’re hearing from project managers who attend our workshops:

* How do we get faster/deeper adoption for the technology solutions we’ve already deployed?

* How do we make a business case to get continued funding for year two or year three of this project (Portal, CRM, Content Management, etc.) when we can’t deliver the hard dollar savings/revenue increases we promised?

We find it ironic that we’re hearing this litany of common concerns among our U.S. clients across a variety of industries at the same time that we read in the business press that there’s an economic recovery underway. The current business economic analysis tells us that companies’ revenues and profits are up. Their stock prices are also rebounding, adding to their CEOs’ optimism. That same analysis also tells us that U.S. companies are not re-hiring to beef up their down-sized workforces. Instead, companies in the U.S., at least, seem to be experiencing a “productivity boost” as fewer workers do more with less, leveraging the technology in which they over-invested between 1998 and 2001.

Let’s look at what’s really happening in the trenches with technology projects, roll-outs, and budgets.

ROI Assumptions

In year one of the project, the project team gathers requirements, makes a business case, does its due diligence, picks a technology platform, delivers and assesses a pilot, and begins phased development and roll-out of production applications.

The ROI for the project is usually predicated on:

* Saving money by reducing duplication of effort, consolidating hardware/software and maintenance, and increasing employee productivity--doing more with less.

* Transforming our business processes to make it easier for employees, customers, business partners, and/or suppliers to do business with us. The transformations will yield greater retention (of employees, customers, partners), lower costs-to-serve, shorter time-to-market, greater process visibility, faster close rates, higher upsell/cross-sell ratios, faster inventory turns, reduced waste, and so on.

Deployment Hurdles

In year two, the difficulties begin. Adoption of the new technology flows like molasses. Most of these projects suffer from the “if we build it, they won’t come” syndrome. Employees resist the use of the new technology and processes. Application developers deliver solutions that are too hard to use and that don’t address end-users’ difficulties in doing their jobs.

Barriers to Adoption

Everyone–the project team, the sponsor, and the technology vendor--underestimates:

* ORGANIZATIONAL INERTIA. Today, most organizations’ inertia is exacerbated by the fact that every employee is already doing at least 1.5 times what he/she had to do two years ago. Employees have increased time pressures, work/life balance issues, and reduced pay. Every day is filled with more emails than anyone can handle (magnified by external and internal spam) and more meetings than anyone can digest. Who has time to learn a new way of doing things?

* THE IMPORTANCE OF SELECTING THE SCENARIOS THAT STAKEHOLDERS CARE ABOUT. Very few projects address the “What’s in it for me?” factor. Overworked employees wonder, “Why should I enthusiastically adopt a new way of doing my job? This new portal, content management process, CRM system, etc. doesn’t streamline the activities I need to do to handle the things that matter most to me. The old process may have been cumbersome. It may create problems for others. But I’ve developed work-arounds and tactics that work for me. I don’t have the time or energy to deal with something new, particularly when I don’t see the upside. How will this new system save me time doing the things I care about?”

* LITTLE BANDWIDTH FOR CHANGE MANAGEMENT & COMMUNICATION. Years ago, IT projects included communication strategies, HR involvement, dedicated teams of change management experts, and distributed teams of change agents, advocates, and mentors. Today’s projects have slimmed-down budgets. The communications and change management tasks are left to the beleaguered IT project managers. Change management falls on the shoulders of the business/technology sponsors and project managers to try to build momentum and buy-in, to change work practices, and to get top management to mandate new behaviors.

With these three very large barriers to adoption, it’s small wonder that many of the IT initiatives currently underway aren’t achieving their stated ROI goals. If you can’t get your own people to adopt the new technology and business processes, you can’t achieve the benefits you promised in the first place.

We’ve heard countless stories over the past year of IT licenses purchased but not fully deployed because the hoped-for company-wide adoption simply stalled out. There were too many impediments to overcome and too little time with too few units of attention to address the impediments.


Software Companies’ Behavior Exacerbates the Adoption Problem

Very few software suppliers are well-organized to address customers’ barriers to adoption and roll-out. The “hunter” sales force keeps beating the bushes trying to make new sales. Most software suppliers have cut back on the “gatherers” in their sales organization--the people who actually do the handholding and make sure that existing customers are content and are reaping benefits from their investments-to-date. This hunter behavior is likely to be the one that drives even more software companies out of business. In a time of scarce sales, your smartest, best people should be focused on working with your existing customers to ensure that they are gaining traction and achieving payback from the solutions they’ve bought from you. Sales compensation should be tied not to the number of software licenses sold, but to the usage of that software--both the number of people and the degree of utilization.

If you focused on ensuring that your existing customers achieved widespread adoption and payback on their projects, you’d have strong reference accounts. Strong references are the single most important criterion for prospects considering your software.

Software Companies Should Focus on Ease of Adoption and Roll-Out

What should software companies be doing to ensure rapid adoption of their tools within today’s lean business climate? Here’s our prescription....

Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.