Software Products Are in Danger of Turning into Shelf-ware Without User Adoption

Amar Tejaswi Digital Adoption, Product Adoption
user adoption

A sad software product story: After extensive and rigorous conceptualization, development, testing, marketing, and deployment, the software just ends up on the shelf gathering dust.

This is not fiction but fact. Virtually all software products are at risk of becoming shelf-ware, no matter how well-crafted they are. Be it an Intranet, ERP tool, document management solution, BI tool, or CRM product –– if it fails to appeal to stakeholders, it is in danger of becoming shelf-ware. Take CRM product adoption, for example. The CRM market is expected to reach more than $80 billion in revenues by 2025. But according to Forrester, almost half of CRM projects fail despite the growing market. CSO Insights found that only 45.7% of companies that pushed through a CRM implementation to optimize sales performance achieved full-scale (> 90%) end user adoption.

The Cost of Shelved Products

The majority (93%) of companies are still spending on some of their underused software products. According to Gartner, many sourcing and vendor management leaders not only have paid software fees for shelf-ware, but also continue to pay 20% to 22% annual maintenance on them.

Shelf-ware could also expose the company to other risks such as cybersecurity threats. CIO suggests that “shelf-ware is a growing cyber security concern” and that this issue has to be tackled head-on in order to ensure superior cybersecurity.

Shelf-ware can also have negative implications for a company’s digital transformation. If business users keep on abandoning or resisting digital technologies and stick to legacy applications, the company may fail to realize its goal of completely modernizing the entire organization.

Low User Adoption: The Main Culprit

Why do products end up on the shelf? It can be due to lack of vendor support or consultation. The product may also have been purchased simply to satisfy some compliance requirements, without a clear strategy on how to onboard business users and ensure adoption.

For example, a satellite company obliged to implement a SAP application under instructions from their head office would be forced to comply. But the adoption would be low if their salespeople are resistant to using the app because they are more comfortable with using spreadsheets, making phone calls, and sending email to send purchase orders, write reports, and make inquiries.

Device restrictions and requirements (e.g. Internet connection) can also impact user experience. Would they use the SAP app installed on their cumbersome company phablet to inquire about the availability of a specific item, or would they rather make a quick phone call using their handy smartphone? If the majority of the sales staff are determined to stick to the old process, the app might become underutilized, or worse, eventually die a natural death.

End User Buy-in is as Critical as Executive Buy-in

Every company has its own reasons for buying a certain software product. But usually, the story goes like this: A decision maker will perceive a certain need; bring the matter up in a meeting; get approval; look for a vendor; finalize the purchase; kick-off the product implementation; and then expect end users to simply weave the new app into their daily routines and processes.

But no matter how hard you try to explain why the new technology is useful and how it will add more value to their day-to-day work, there will always be people who resist change and people who welcome change but easily get overwhelmed and intimidated by technologies they are not familiar with. Additionally, if end users feel that the solution is not tailored to their individual needs, they might simply abandon it and stick to their legacy tools that they can easily modify according to their immediate need.

This is why end users must be involved not only during post-implementation stages, but also during the initial buying process and/or product development for custom solutions. They can provide truly useful insights because they know what can work best for them. They are using a totally different lens when looking at the problem and how to solve it.

Ask end users the right questions during the entire product development and implementation. Doing so can help ensure that products are really being tailored according to their taste and preferences. Otherwise, the product is at risk of becoming shelf-ware, just like what happened to the Kinnect platform. According to ComputerWeekly, the downfall of Kinnect was due to the failure to get sufficient stakeholder buy-in from the beginning. But it did not dismiss the possibility that the developer might have done surveys to ensure that they are on the right track. However, it was possible that they “asked the wrong questions to the wrong people.”

This is true for custom-made products. But what if the product is off-the-shelf?

Successful Implementation ≠ Successful Adoption

Successful product implementation is not a guarantee of successful user adoption. In fact, implementation is just half the battle. Onboarding users and ensuring consistent high adoption rate can be even more challenging.

It is critical that the product is integrated not only with the organization’s technological infrastructure but also with the system of individual end users. The product should adapt to their individual needs in order for it to be adopted.

How can we say that the product is successfully adopted?

Let’s first define what adoption means in this context. Brandon Bruce, author of the book “The Shelfware Problem: A Guide to CRM Adoption,” defines adoption as the consistent, effective use of a specific technology or software platform that drives business goals in measurable ways.

So these are the factors that we need to look at to ensure adoption is successful:

  • The adoption is consistent (i.e., the end users are constantly using the product),
  • The new technology or software is used effectively (e.g., all features are used and maximized),
  • The use of the new technology drives business goals in measurable ways.

How to Enable High User Adoption

Adoption should be approached strategically. Here are some practical steps for ensuring high user adoption.

  • Develop an adoption plan. Even before implementing a product, ensure that there is an adoption plan in place. And when creating an adoption plan, consider the following:

– The psychology of individual end users.

– The organization’s existing processes that can hinder adoption.

– The effective ways to successfully onboard, train, and support users.

– How to evaluate adoption success.

  • Execute the plan; modify as you go. Employees’ training requirements constantly change as they get to familiarize themselves with each product feature. This is why the training tool needs to be scalable and personalized.
  • Highlight the benefits, but also focus on ease of use. Showcasing the benefits of the product is not enough. According to the Technology Acceptance Model, perceived usefulness is just one of the two important factors on which user adoption depends on, with the other factor being perceived ease of use. This is why understanding individual users’ adoption needs and preferences is critical.
  • Provide users with “snackable” training. Long online and offline training courses may only diminish interest among users. Today’s users want to learn as they go. Discover the feature that they need right when they need it. Provide a quick walk-through to show how the feature works. This is where microlearning comes in.
  • Lastly, constantly evaluate adoption. Is the adoption consistent? Is the software product used effectively? Does it drive business goals in measurable ways? Using KRAs and KPIs can help you evaluate adoption objectively.

Adoption Really Matters

What if we don’t focus on user adoption?

Low user adoption can hurt the company in many ways. For technology vendors, they will have to deal with customer churn and lost profit if their customer terminates the contract soon. It can also have negative implications for customers. Say, for example, they bought 1,200 licenses for $100 a month but only 90% of users are using the technology. It can result in $144,000 worth of monetary waste per year. If only half of users are engaged, the total cost of non-engaged users will be $720,000 annually.

The success of any product implementation heavily depends on user adoption. This is why many organizations give user adoption high priority. BMC, for example, which experienced various costly CRM implementation failures in the past, looked to WhatFix’s digital adoption platform to improve and simplify user onboarding. Cardinal Health, on the other hand, leverages WhatFix’s digital adoption platform for improved user support.

We at WhatFix are serious about providing clients with intuitive solutions to help them enable high user adoption and guide users throughout the entire adoption process and beyond.

Don’t let low user adoption kill your apps. Talk to a WhatFix user adoption expert to learn more about how we enable high user adoption and minimize the risks of shelf-ware using our digital adoption platform.

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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