Al Lee-Bourke has definitely seen it all when it comes to user adoption of digital services. He has seen the ups with Microsoft probably doing some of the largest user adoption cases in the world and downs as he has been fired from his CIO position after the implementation of new software failed – not only once, but twice.

Value of IT projects is only realized when people change the way they work

Clearly, the most useful session of the Microsoft Partner Success Manager boot camp was Al’s sessions about the use of adoption. Let’s get back to the event later and concentrate on the content first.

Why user adoption is so critical

Adoption has become a critical issue for the IT industry due to cloud services. Before, after a failed implementation of an IT project, the big loser was only the customer’s CIO. After making a huge investment, failing to bring the return on investment for the highest executives, they were fired. Because of the vast number of stakeholders in the chain, it was hard to see whether it was the fault of implementation partner of the underlying technology. In any case, the payment was already in the pocket of the providers.

Today, the world is different and as services are paid based on usage rather than as a package up front, service providers have to deliver each day. And at the same time, the definition of customer and value creation is more complex and interconnected than ever. The value creation goes all the way from the individual user to multi-national service vendors like Microsoft. If any one of the chain of stakeholders does not get value, it is a risk for the whole chain involved.

How to survive all this

It is fundamental to understand a few things. Firstly, an organization IT project is always a change and it is aimed to change the way we work. Secondly, even with the smallest change, we will encounter resistance. And most of all, there is no such thing as organizational change; it is always people that have to go through the change to enable a new model for an organization to function.

That is why change management plays a vital role in successful IT implementation. At its purest, change management is the art of explaining to each party the value of the transformation. In order for an organization change, everyone has their part to play.

For an IT company to be successful in today’s environment, they need to learn to demonstrate the business value of the user adoption

The logic is rather simple. For a company’s CEO, the value of the project is often connected to growing their business or cutting down the cost. For executives, the indicator of the success of a project is the return on investment. For IT-based services, ROI is all about adoption percentage of the new tool.

Studies have shown that only 16 % of people are able to adopt services by themselves. It is clearly not a large enough number of employees to prove an investment of the service. Instead, a higher level of adoption has to be achieved to help people onboard by providing the value of what is in it for them. This support has to be implemented at all levels since the value of each feature is different for all actors. Therefore, the training and support have to be provided in the context of the user. Al proves his point very clearly. How would the CIO know what it takes for a particular employee to be more efficient at their work using Office365?

The individual people aspect of change is where it all comes back to the top management of the company. The lack of executive sponsorship is the number one risk to successful change management. Therefore, in order for an IT company to be successful in today’s environment, they need to learn to demonstrate the business value of the user adoption.

Based on years of studies and implementation, Prosci change management practice states that the core pillars of successful change are executive-level sponsorship, project management (implementation quality), and change management (ensuring the user skills and adoption).

Where to start in practice

The boot camp was all about getting started with change management practice. It was a get-together of front-line partners of Microsoft to learn how they can get the value of implementing change management to be an integral part of their offering. Understanding their critical role and value in the process of ensuring user success when implementing Microsoft services. Learning and connecting with each other to ensure that each part of the ecosystem will continue receiving value as the digitalization continues transforming the way we work.

The most effective way to sell the importance of adoption is by understanding the pain points of an individual actor

The panel discussion prior to Al Lee-Bourke’s session offered some insight from partners that had taken change management as a center of their strategy early on. The panel was unanimous in the sense that change management practice had to be part of any IT implementation to be successful.

Whereas most IT companies struggle in making a business out of it, the managing partner of Nexum Nordic, Caroline Mork Jensen advises taking the change management into the discussions already up front. Since Microsoft has not been the best in doing that, it leaves a great opportunity for the partners. The most effective way to sell the importance of adoption is by understanding the pain points of an individual actor.

Based on the provided tools, there are three main strategies to address in such a situation. One can concentrate on business results, as based on the data showing that well-performed change management does not only provide better results but with fewer cost in a shorter time. Secondly, not addressing the user adoption challenge creates a huge risk not only for the whole project, but the individual executives purchasing or sponsoring it. And lastly, all of the change projects take place for a reason. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the return on investment of a project. Otherwise, it is just a waste of money.

Yet, it is more easily said than done. Based on Wortell consultant Dennis Hoogenraad, their company has gone through a huge change during recent years in order to seize this opportunity. Operational logic has become more agile and a lot of work has been done to align the story of all employees towards valuable change management. Even the developers have to be involved in ensuring the user adoption. Again, eating their own dog food is best way to understand customer pain points.

Innofactor’s Sanna Keränen reminds the audience that for a technology partner, it is about a decision of taking their business towards being a true trusted advisor. For years, it has been more valuable to sell to an existing customer, but now it is slowly becoming the only way to succeed. Individual projects are too small in size and the sooner the company starts taking small, pragmatic steps towards change management the better.

In the end, it is simple: “Value of IT projects is only realized when people change the way they work.”, as stated by the Veteran Change Manager Al Lee-Bourke.


JP Wirta
The author is driving user adoption in scale by Single Click Learning service Happit – Microsoft ISV Country Partner of the Year in Finland. JP works as #HappitFamily Officer in taking care of the partner network and is devoted to helping Microsoft partners to transform their business towards change management.


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