Chasing change: the emerging role of the digital adoption professional

Simon Blunn, EMEA head of WalkMe, discusses the growing importance of the digital adoption professional in business C-Suite operations

By now it’s almost a cliché to say that the pandemic encouraged many organisations to embrace new digital tools to survive new ways of working and doing business. Yet after a turbulent couple of years, the question is no longer about what technologies the business needs, but how to get value from them.

For C-Suite executives tasked with driving digital strategy, there are a number of often daunting questions they need to ask. Will technology support business strategy? Will it meet its promised ROI? Can the business maintain or accelerate its current momentum with new technology? And perhaps most importantly – how will employees adapt?

To get the most out of new technologies, they need to be used. Digital adoption is a crucial element in this – ensuring that employees can use their technology to its fullest, and that the organisation will get maximum value from their investment. The alternative can be wasted investments, frustrated employees, and an organisation slipping further and further behind its goals. The drive to maximise technology investments has led to the proliferation of a new role in business: the Digital Adoption Professional.

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The brass tacks of Digital Adoption Professionals

Whether a completely new position or an addition to an existing role, the Digital Adoption Professional’s task is relatively straightforward – helping end users embrace and get the maximum value from technology. According to research by Harvard Business Review, in 2021, most enterprises said the typical employee was expected to master three new digital touchpoints per year, and this number is only increasing.

Without due attention to digital adoption, there is no guarantee that technologies will meet their full potential. For instance, employees might not be able to get to grips with new technologies, reducing productivity. Onboarding will become harder if new hires can’t use the tools they’re given, which is especially important as an organisation’s tech stack can be at least as important as its head office when attracting and keeping fresh talent. And customers will be frustrated if new online tools are just too difficult to use.

The Digital Adoption Professional’s role is to navigate these challenges: identifying pain points facing users, understanding how adoption is progressing and where there are gaps, and making new technologies as simple as possible to pick up.

A question of skill

So, what skills are necessary for a Digital Adoption Professional? Project management and leadership skills are essential, as understanding the enterprise’s fundamental needs, its strategic goals, and how to shepherd users through adoption is critical. A degree of tech savvy is also needed, both to understand the tools at users’ disposal and to identify what challenges they might face. Above all, they need to be able to keep pace with technology trends and an ever-changing workplace to ensure they understand exactly what the business – and its employees and customers – needs.

There are often established members of IT teams with these skills, making them ideal for the role. The main question is whether the Digital Adoption Professional needs to be a completely new position or can be added to an existing job. Largely this depends on the size of the challenge – in a large organisation with complicated technology demands, expecting one person to manage both digital adoption and other responsibilities could be a recipe for disaster.

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Confronting hurdles

There are two common hurdles that Digital Adoption Professionals will have to overcome in their work. The first is the complexity of the technology in place.

Enterprise technology can be notoriously difficult to navigate – especially compared to consumer products that are designed to be as simple and intuitive to use as possible and, crucially, where similar devices or software all work in pretty much the same way. Partly this is due to the need to perform a single task as effectively, efficiently and consistently as possible. But it’s also due to the fact that enterprise software will usually come from multiple vendors – from the onboarding process onwards. Each of these technologies will provide support and help functions, but there’s no guarantee that all will work the same way. Against this backdrop, it can be highly confusing for employees to not only use products, but to get help when they’re stuck. Unifying these help functions needs to be a priority.

Second, there is the challenge of understanding exactly how adoption is progressing and where users need help. In a large enterprise, it can be very hard to understand how many employees are using a piece of software, and even harder to determine exactly what functions they use regularly. Similarly, where are employees getting stuck? Unless the organisation understands exactly where difficulties are, it can’t begin to fix them – and relying on users to identify and report on those sticking points is no solution at all.

Instead, Digital Adoption Professionals need a way to analyse application uptake, and to monitor users’ journeys so they can see precisely what is stopping people from using technology in the way it was intended. Armed with this they can then take action – for instance, by creating tutorials and hints that automatically begin when users reach known roadblocks.

Evolution provides results

Our digital world is here to stay, and adapting to new technology and fully using its features are crucial to the modern enterprise. For businesses to ensure they can keep up with the pace of an evolving work landscape, they must resource their team with an expert in digital adoption.

While it might seem natural to adopt new tech, the truth is that the process is a lot harder than it looks. But with the right Digital Adoption Professional who has the right skills and is prepared to overcome the right challenges, the road can be made a lot clearer.

Written by Simon Blunn, EMEA head of WalkMe

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