Prevent Software from Turning into Shelf-ware Using a Digital Adoption Platform

Amar Tejaswi Digital Adoption, Product Adoption
digital adoption platform

If you truly want to become a digital native, you need to be digital from the inside out — and the only way to do this is by arming your employees (internal) and customers (external) with digital tools that are relevant to them and can help improve their experience. But this is easier said than done. As Philip Kushmaro puts it, “Convincing the leadership at your organization that you need to ‘go digital’ is one thing. Actually getting everyone to use the platforms, tools, and services you select is another.

Digital Transformation Efforts Fail when There Is No Digital Adoption

The tools you selected and implemented may be innovative and disruptive, but they are in danger of turning into shelf-ware (i.e., software that is unused or underutilized) if adoption is poor.

But why do software products like ERP and HCM end up on the shelf? There are a number of reasons but they all boil down to low user adoption. Users underutilize or completely abandon the software product because they don’t think they need it in the first place. Their old methods still work for them, so why replace them? Another reason is that even though they know they need the solution they find it hard to accustom themselves to it. And if they try to use it because top management required them to do so, they end up frustrated and “the stress follows them home,” according to Hunt (as cited by Susan Galer in her SAP article).

digital adoption platform

Source: Twitter

End users may be willing to support their organization’s DX initiatives by embracing new technologies, but lack of training and understanding of how the tools work can influence adoption. This can happen not only to a newly introduced or implemented tool but also to new releases of an already adopted solution.

Take Salesforce, for example. Salesforce rolled out Lightning Experience to offer sales organizations a more modern interface compared to Salesforce Classic. Salesforce hoped that this new version could also help increase user adoption. But while many organizations that switched from Salesforce Classic to Lightning realized its various benefits, they had to contend with adoption challenges. Some Lightning users commented that they experienced various user experience issues and low adoption and confusion due to lack of sufficient training.

It is not an overstatement to say that shelf-ware is a major digital transformation (DX) impediment. Digital adoption is crucial to digital transformation; poor adoption can “seriously cripple a new implementation” and ” result in thousands and potentially millions of dollars lost in the long term,” according to Kushmaro. This is why companies should take shelf-ware prevention seriously.

How do businesses address the shelf-ware problem? Are their methods successful?

Since shelf-ware is caused by the lack of digital adoption, it can be successfully prevented by taking a technology-powered approach to software adoption.

Every company has it’s own unique approach to improving user adoption. Some focus on further innovating and refining their software applications while others focus on giving users incentives when they use the tool. There are also companies that leverage more comprehensive approaches such as involving users throughout the entire software development and implementation. Let’s take a look at some companies that actually applied these strategies.


Qeryz, a survey tool for websites, suffered a depressing 2% adoption rate during its first four months of release. Its creators thought that if they refined their user onboarding process, they would be able to boost the adoption rate. After multiple user onboarding modifications and testing, the user adoption rate grew to 23% or a massive 1150% increase in just 2 months.

Samsung Pay

Outperformed by “plastic cards,” Samsung Pay –– a mobile payment app –– had only as little as 1% of active users. To drive up adoption, they offered incentives that were akin to credit card rewards programs. Their user base grew by 58% from 2017 to 2018, perhaps partly due to the incentive program. Aside from this tactic, Samsung Pay announced that they will integrate cryptocurrencies to expand their user base internationally.

McDonald’s Mobile App

Even McDonald’s mobile app failed to appeal to users’ appetite at first. They admitted that adoption rate was low, so they thought of further optimizing the app to make it more appealing to users. They also planned to train McDonald’s employees on how to effectively utilize the app and be able to more effectively cater to customers.

While these companies were successful in expanding their user base, it may be too early to say that there will be real, consistent adoption moving forward. Digital adoption does not end in successfully onboarding users. Introducing new software features and capabilities may also impact user experience. A one-time, generic training program may not be enough because users have individual needs, preferences, and expectations. And there are a number of other factors to consider when ensuring consistent adoption.

This is where Digital Adoption Platforms (DAP) comes in.

So… we need a tool to get users to adopt a new tool?

Definitely. Because any digital adoption plan or shelf-ware prevention initiative that doesn’t have a technology enabler to help you effectively execute them is dead. You need a Digital Adoption Platform that can help you execute your plans in a cost-effective, sustainable, and measurable manner.

Digital Adoption Platforms help ensure consistent software adoption by providing users with contextual, scalable, flexible, on-demand, and interactive walkthroughs, training, and performance support. G2 Crowd defines it as “a software layer integrated on top of another software application or website to guide users through tasks and functions.” And to qualify as a Digital Adoption Platform, the product must:

  • Integrate on top of a web-based software, website, or software application;
  • Provide cued prompts or comments; and
  • Collect and analyze data on user behavior.

According to TrustRadius, employee training (internal) and customer success (external) are the two main use cases of DAPs. It assists in onboarding new users and enables them to maximize their use of the software product without having the need to constantly refer to manuals and product documentation or seek IT help. DAPs promote self-learning, allowing users to learn with respect to their current need. It does more than just help users to familiarize themselves with the product but also to quickly determine how to successfully achieve their goal using the product. It harnesses user behavior and uses it as a basis for intelligently assisting users to get their work done faster and easier.

TrustRadius lists the features that digital adoption software provides and enables:

  • Ability to create guidance layer without altering the underlying application
  • Ability to create walkthroughs, in-app messages, or other guidance
  • No-code editing tool to manage and deploy walkthrough elements
  • Personalized guidance, triggered by user behavior
  • Guidance to live support
  • Tour customization
  • Tour completion metrics and scoring
  • Granular application usage data collection
  • Machine learning analytics to locate user inefficiency and describe the workflow
  • Cross-user app usage analytics and problem spot identification

These capabilities are far beyond what conventional user onboarding and training methods can offer. Digital Adoption Platforms are designed to speed time-to-competency and to empower trainers to address the “forgetting curve” problem where employees forget 70% of new information within a day and 90% within a week.

Are all DAPs Equal? Which Digital Adoption Platform is best for my organization?

Your organization’s Digital Transformation journey, decisions, and experience can be way different from that of other organizations, and this can be true even if you are under the same industry. So when narrowing down your choices for a digital adoption platform, you have to consider your organization’s specific digital adoption and digital transformation needs, both in the present and in the future.

But it also helps to learn from early adopters and see the pros and cons of their selected Digital Adoption Platform. You may refer to different review platforms and technology advisory firms like G2 Crowd and Constellation Research, Inc. G2 Crowd allows users to share their sentiments regarding the Digital Adoption Platform they use and rate them based on different criteria (see graphs below, showing customer reviews on Whatfix, a leading Digital Adoption Platform).

digital adoption platform

Source: G2 Crowd


digital adoption platform

Source: G2 Crowd

Constellation Research Inc., on the other hand, evaluated various Digital Adoption Platforms using the following criteria and shortlisted eight DAPs that passed these criteria:

  • Guidance should be contextual, not limited to the linear progression of steps
  • Personalization, offering each person his/her own custom experience
  • Complexity of development required to create the guides/workflows 
  • Pre-built templates and integrations for popular business applications
  • Professional services to help customers with implementation and best practices
  • Dashboards/analytics to provide insights to administrators, helping them understand user behavior and reduce errors
  • Use of artificial intelligence for rules engine to dynamically improve workflow conditions

Whatfix was among the eight DAPs that were included in the Constellation ShortList.

The following are factors which can multiply the value from a digital adoption platform and can differentiate it from the run-of-the-mill competitors:

  • Does it offer interactive, omnichannel content?
  • Does it have specialized widgets built to cater to multiple use cases such as continuous employee training, effective and quick user onboarding, and contextual self-serving customer support?
  • Does it have Smart guided pop-ups for easy onboarding and notifications?
  • Does it offer on-demand smart assist via self-help widget?
  • Does it provide mini learning/training modules and lets you integrate your learning plans with your LMS?
  • Does it allow for intelligent interactive segmentation, which helps you personalize the content to be shown to a user?
  • Is it multilingual, allowing you to empower users from different parts of the globe?


Digital Transformation, which is in itself a costly and challenging undertaking, can become even more costly and difficult if we make bad decisions such as buying and implementing new digital tools that will only end up on the shelf. It’s up to the organization which Digital Adoption Platform to leverage, but the goal should be clear: to ensure that no software ends up on the shelf.

Amar Tejaswi

Amar Tejaswi

Engineer by qualification and marketer by profession, Amar contributes to marketing efforts at Whatfix in ways he can.
Amar Tejaswi
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