7 Points of satisfaction in buying HR Technology: Adoption

By Mark Barlow, July 26, 2017

Seven Points of Satisfaction in buying HR Tech is a new webcast series based on a popular series written by William Tincup and Jeremy Ames and published by The HR Gazette.

AppLearn CEO Mark Barlow joins Jeremy Ames on the last episode of the series to discuss how adoption can impact the purchasing of HR technology. Please see a full transcription of the podcast below.

TRANSCRIPTION:

You’re listening to 7 points of satisfaction in buying HR technology supported by the HR Gazette and high-tech HR and now your host Jeremy Ames.

Jeremy: Welcome to the 7th point in the Satisfaction in Buying HR Technology. Today we’re going to be talking about adoption of software and a particular HR software. My name is Jeremy Ames I’m joined today by special guest Mark Barlow who is the CEO of AppLearn. Welcome Mark.

Mark: Thank you, glad to be here.

Jeremy: Yeah, so a very exciting day for me today because we’ve reached the 7th in the series. I specifically chose adoption to be the final episode in this series. Basically, because I think it’s the holy grail of software implementation and usage. In the article series, this whole thing as I’ve mentioned a few times is based on a series I wrote that lived on, that still lives out on, Tech Target. In the series, adoption was the sixth article where it flowed the process and the last one in the whole series was support.

But I kind of flip-flopped that because, from my perspective, adoption is an even more vital component to the success of software than support or even these other things. I’m very excited to have such an expert on here to help me out and talk through this major topic. The first thing I wanted to bring up was this concept of loving your software. This was something we wrote into the series and people don’t usually think of some program as something that would require the users to love it.

But truthfully in my experience with the software that I’ve implemented and worked on if you don’t have that component. People don’t feel passionate about the software they’re using, it’s just a tool or a means to an end. You may secure some adoption of that software for a period of time but it’s likely to lose its lustre and that goes even for some non-business specific tools. Like gaming or anything. Every piece of software eventually loses its lustre. The more you can get your users to love it, the better chance you have of that lasting a long time.

Mark, what are your thoughts on whether that’s necessary, even could boring mundane software that users don’t love can you still secure adoption. How much does that play into it?

“Adoption is the holy grail of software implementation.”

 

Mark: That’s an interesting question, you know when you look at software that resides on a cell phone or mobile phone you look at all the different types of software applications you can download. They’re very easy to use, they’re very intuitive, they’re built for a purpose. But the user gets an instant benefit from those mobile phones so you can talk to your brother in Australia for free, you can order a cheap ticket for somewhere, cheap flight, cheap holiday you can buy something on Amazon. Everything you do when you use your mobile application you get an almost immediate benefit from and that’s what takes you back there and that’s why you love it and that’s why you keep going back and using it.

With B2B software, you don’t get an immediate benefit. You have to use the software because it underpins a business process in your organisation. The software tends to be a lot more complicated and the processes are a lot more complicated. So, trying to get users to love business application software isn’t at all easy. What you really have to do is get them to engage in the process. The software is underpinning a process, whatever that process is in the case of HR. It could be a recruitment process, it could be an onboarding process, it’s underpinning a process. So the question is, can you get them to love the process. Can you get them to realise why it’s important for them, it’s important for the business? Can they get them to understand the benefits that they get and the business get from that process? If you can win their hearts and minds and you can get them to love the process. You’ve got half a chance of getting them to engage in the software.

So, the software alone in a B2B context, I don’t believe you can get to a position when you can love the software. You’re only going to love it if it’s doing something useful for you or you’re going to get a benefit or the companies going to get a benefit out of you using it. First thing is, get the user to love the process and then show them the software.

Jeremy: Those are all great points Mark and it’s this gear that symbolises process. I’m glad you incorporated that and it also takes, the listeners if you’ve been following us through this entire series, it takes you back to the beginning where we were talking about product and how much you’re buying the product versus making sure the product fits your processes, or even enhances your processes.

You’re right, if you’ve gone through this entire process and now you’re looking for them to adopt it and use it successfully. Everything to that point, decisions would have had to have been made that got you the best fit for your processes and the best enhancement to them so that in turn. Maybe love is strong, maybe it’s intentionally strong maybe they can at least find the value in it enough that they’ll end up using it.

And what if they don’t though. This is why a company like yours is so important and why in each implementation that I’ve worked on that the adoption of the software is vital. That even at the buying process, the one we’re talking about here, the company need to factor this in. If they don’t, first we need to know how they’re going to pick up on that fact and where are those facts going to come from and once they don’t like that software you really need to think what could be the worst-case scenario in this in terms of lost revenue, lost effort because basically, you’re going to discover that the importance of adoption in avoiding those kinds of things. What are your thoughts on how do you know they don’t like it and what then happens?

“If you can win hearts and minds and you can get users to love the process. You’ve got half a chance of getting them to engage in the software.”

 

Mark: Well, if they don’t like it, that’s expensive and that’s costly because your organisation is paying millions of pounds a year for licences and the users that are using them. That is a problem around the world right now and that’s why my company exists. If you look at research for example that Gartner put out; 75% of business transformation projects fail to deliver their expected business outcome.  The expected business outcome, that means that they’re not delivering a return on their value or a return on investment.

So, it’s an expensive situation when users are not using the software. The first thing you need to know is how are you measuring that. How are you measuring the fact that they’re not loving the software and they’re not using it.?

That means that the processes are failing. That means that you’re not getting your appraisals done on time, that means data accuracy is a problem for you, data integrity is a problem. It means that your business is failing because the processes are not being completed and that becomes an even more expensive situation. So the first thing you need to do is measure. In what way and where are these processes failing? If you’re a global company for example, have you got problems in France, have you got problems in Germany, have you got problems in America who are these users and where are these users that are not engaging in processes and then you need to go about understanding why and why isn’t it all just cognitive feedback, you know, why are you not using the software, but why can’t there be other data measures as well. You need to find out why so you need to measure, then you need to take action. Without the data, without measuring adoption, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s adoption in the dark and the actions you take could be the wrong actions.

If you’re a global company, for example, have you got problems in France, have you got problems in Germany, have you got problems in America? Who are these users and where are these users that are not engaging in processes and then you need to go about understanding why and why isn’t it all just cognitive feedback, you know, why are you not using the software, but why can’t there be other data measures as well. You need to find out why so you need to measure, then you need to take action. Without the data, without measuring adoption, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s adoption in the dark and the actions you take could be the wrong actions.

Jeremy: I’m wondering because I’m trying to put this in the perspective of a HR system and payroll as well. But HR is primarily a transactional system. And there are some talent management components which are a little bit softer so to speak. But there are so many transactions in enrolling and benefits and transitioning people from job to job and hiring and terming and there are so many ways you can see whether or not people are successful in those tasks in terms of what percentage of the employees didn’t use the HR system to enrol in benefits. What percentage went outside the normal process of requesting time off and just did it paper-based.

More seriously, when you go through the process of closing out the air and doing competition management how many people manually entered a bonus instead of letting the system do it for them. I’m wondering from your perspective, do you see some systems, when someone is looking for a system to buy are some systems more successful in getting people through transactions and are naturally easier to adopt them or is it pretty consistent on that front.?

Mark: Whenever you’re using software that you have to use every day to complete your day job you pretty soon pick it up. If you’re in HR or payroll and it’s every day you log onto the system and every day you use it. Then you soon become familiar with that software. If you’ve got software that you’re using infrequently. For example, it might be your annual appraisal once a year, or in the interim in the middle of the year. You pick it up and you put it down, you might recruit 10 people a year so you don’t use your recruitment application very often.

These applications are the ones that are very difficult and what makes it even more difficult is that every quarter your SaaS provider changes that software. So if it has been three or four months since you’ve last gone in there to do something. When you do go back in it could have well have changed. So what you’re trying to deal with here is constant change within an organisation and either process change or software change which is driven by a SaaS vendor. No one tells you that when you buy a SaaS tool that you’re going to have to be very agile about change. Because change is going to occur every time the software vendor updates the software. In actual fact, what we found Jeremy is that it doesn’t matter what software you’re using. Most of the software out there is good it’s good for purpose, some is better than others. But at the end of the day, you have to find a way to manage change and to communicate the change to your entire organisation. If you are going to sustain that adoption over the period of the software contract. It is an all-day everyday activity. It’s not something you stop when you go live. That’s something else we found, is that people stop generally when they go live.

Because change is going to occur every time the software vendor updates the software. In actual fact, what we found Jeremy is that it doesn’t matter what software you’re using. Most of the software out there is good it’s good for purpose, some is better than others. But at the end of the day, you have to find a way to manage change and to communicate the change to your entire organisation. If you are going to sustain that adoption over the period of the software contract. It is an all-day everyday activity. It’s not something you stop when you go live. That’s something else we found, is that people stop generally when they go live.

Jeremy: Actually, you just brought us back to the last episode which was about support and the whole topic of SaaS and upgrades. It does play in there, even though all software is just software in the end. Different vendors manage the upgrade process differently and provide help or make it easier for the end user or client company in different ways, so that is an important difference to consider in the buying process. You sort of alluded to this Mark and I caught on, we’ve had a couple of vendors based in the UK which makes this whole thing fun but you said you can save or lose thousands of pounds or millions of pounds for your company and I see this too, one of the interesting costs that people don’t consider is if software is so cumbersome and even all these points that get you to the point in this process in the implementation, the selection of the tool,  if things go bad enough you could not only lose money on the adoption of it and money spent getting there people lose jobs in this whole deal. If you can’t get successfully through this process people within the company it can happen. And then it’s not only the direct

You sort of alluded to this Mark and I caught on, we’ve had a couple of vendors based in the UK which makes this whole thing fun but you said you can save or lose thousands of pounds or millions of pounds for your company and I see this too. One of the interesting costs that people don’t consider is if software is so cumbersome and even all these points that get you to the point in this process in the implementation, the selection of the tool,  if things go bad enough you could not only lose money on the adoption of it and money spent getting there people lose jobs in this whole deal. If you can’t get successfully through this process people within the company it can happen. And then it’s not only the direct costs but the indirect costs of having to replace either the HR staff or the HRIS staff lost as a result of all of this. What are some of the specific ways you can see companies either losing or saving money as it relates to adoption?

 

“Most business cases are put together assuming 100% adoption.”

 

Mark: I think that whenever someone puts a business case together to purchase a new piece of software, that business case shows that there’s going to be a need to spend and invest money and there’ll be a payback period of say, lets make this up, about two years. There will be a payback period, at some point, the company will be making money out of this particular transition. The truth of the matter is, that business case was put together with the assumption that you would achieve and sustain 100% adoption through the lifetime of the contract.

If 50% of your employees failed to embrace the change and are not adopting the software not only are you losing the cost of the licences that you are paying for, not getting any value out of. But you’re also losing the upside of the benefits you expected to get when you put the business plan together in the first place. So adoption doesn’t cost you money, it actually saves you money. It helps you be sure to be sure to achieve and the original expected business outcomes. You need your adoption to be 90% + to get anywhere need that business case that you presented for the budget to do the project in the first place.

What we’re finding out there is that too many companies are well below 50% adoption within 12 months of them going live. At that point, they can kiss goodbye to any ROI that they might have expected when they put the business case together.

Jeremy: So essentially, you and I both know there’s probably a very low percentage of those ROI analyses that factor in adoption and like you said they just assume 100% adoption. So, you’ve basically discredited every consultant every internal IT group that has gone through one of those analyses, handed it off to the CFO and said look how much money we’re going to save. When they’ve been presenting inflated numbers this whole time. Which is a pretty scary thought right.?

Mark: It is a scary thought, and there’s so much that we’re learning about SaaS technology and about cloud based technology. About the frequency of change is one of them that I mentioned earlier on. This cost issue of adoption and without adoption you’re really not going to achieve your ROI’s. So it is a critical element.

Jeremy: And so here’s the topic of who owns adoption and the main reason I included this and wrote about it was during the buying process, the buyers not typically asking the vendor this question. So this is more of a, do we own it or the person whose gonna be purchasing your software and buying it and implementing it, do you the software vendor own it. The answers to those questions are very telling and how seriously the software vendor takes that question is also a very telling part of the buying process. And I know you, AppLearn itself, are a facilitator, kind of like a liaison. However you want to call that, who tries to help both parties. But from your perspective which makes this even more valuable, who should own it, is it really up to the person whose buying the software or the vendor.

Mark: It’s up to the person whose buying the software. Interestingly enough though, if you go to LinkedIn and you do a search for user adoption managers, you’ll start to see now titles of people becoming ‘head of software adoption. ‘ or ‘head of user adoption’ ‘user adoption specialist.’ You start to see people coming through now with job titles that are based on adoption.

We believe that is 80% process, communication and change and 20%  software. So the software vendors themselves only have a limited impact on user adoption within your organisation. The UI that they deliver the UX and all the tools they might offer to you can only have a 20% impact on adoption. The biggest part of it is managing change and the company themselves and people responsible for managing change. My advice to anybody out there that’s listening in. appoint somebody head of user adoption for your HR tool, make that person accountable, give them a budget because it doesn’t come for free you do have to pay for it. Give that person an objective and that objective is, make sure that the adoption of our HR tool is always above 90%. That person will pay for themselves 10 times over in the first year.

My advice to anybody out there that’s listening in. Appoint somebody head of user adoption for your HR tool, make that person accountable, give them a budget because it doesn’t come for free you do have to pay for it. Give that person an objective and that objective is, make sure that the adoption of our HR tool is always above 90%. That person will pay for themselves 10 times over in the first year.

Jeremy: Wow, so that was my greatest insight of this session. I’ve never actually recommended that. But that will probably become one of the recommendations I make moving forward to the clients that we work with. Then on the vendor side, you just mentioned that a lot of this comes down to the purchaser making sure that they have the people in place, but can the vendor actually help in that, can they provide usage consumption, adoption metrics in the end, they still have to play a role I would think. So how can they help I guess?

 

“Appoint someone head of user adoption for your HR tool. Make that person accountable and give them a budget.”

 

Mark: So that’s an interesting question, this is what it all comes down to. How do we measure, what do we measure, what data do we need and where can we get that data from. So one sort of data is the data coming from the software vendor themselves, which is all based on usage and consumption. So who’s logged on, when did they log on, what did they do, where did they go, it’s a complete task sometimes. All that sort of great data is critical and that comes from the vendor.

But another good source, for example, of data, is the help desk/support desk. So what tickets are being logged, what are the problems that the front line support people are encountering. And can we have a data feed from that system, because it really would be interesting to see who’s calling the helpdesk and what sort of problems are they having and who and where those problems are coming from?

And then we can correlate that data with vendor data and with other data sets too. For example; What we do at AppLearn is provide a synchronised content migrate of training materials and communication materials so there is a data feed that can come from content consumption. So once you start to take all those different data feeds and correlate them together you get much richer information about user adoption and user behaviours around your organisation. So the answer Jeremy is yes, the vendors play an important part and can provide some data into the mix. But in terms of user adoption. To get that real picture, you need data from other sources too.

Jeremy: I think it’s important to point out there that where that helpdesk exists and how much is being done by the company itself versus the vendor or even in some cases a shared services type situation. There’s a lot of factors that go into that.

One factor is how big is the company. I’ve seen in big enterprise level companies you can potentially have your own support desk that’s doing these things, that has its own help desk tool. Whereas I’ve worked with plenty of customers that don’t have that internally and they do exclusively rely on vendor support so I think that’s a factor to consider when you’re buying.

Jeremy: So this was a really insightful session for me as well. Hopefully, those of you that were able to listen in and make sure as this is a final episode make sure you catch the previous episodes that have been recorded and transcribed and I hope you have enjoyed the series. Thanks for joining us.

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