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Is Adoption the New ROI of Collaboration?

Posted by on June 13, 2012

This was the message that Yammer’s CTO and Co-Founder Adam Pisoni delivered at the Info360 Conference in NYC this morning.  While I’m not sure that the title of the presentation translated into the actual content, the presentation itself was great; filled with useful stats, telling visuals, and relevant analogies.  It’s actually a good thing that Adam wasn’t drilling across the “Adoption is the new ROI” message during all of his slides because that’s a tough pill to swallow.  The assumption is that by employees adopting and actively using collaborative tools that business value will present itself.  Now while this certainly might be true, “adoption” is (at least in my experience) never a driving force for companies to invest in these emergent tools or strategies.

The reality is that adoption is neither a use case nor is it a business problem.  Leaders at organizations don’t make the decision to deploy these tools just so that they can get a lot of people using them.  No, leaders see real business problems within their enterprise such as:

  • multiple devices being used within enterprises that need to talk to each other
  • difficulty in organizational alignment and insight into the ground floor of the company
  • duplication of content and inefficient ways of working
  • work-life balance issues
  • poor employee engagement
  • stagnant innovation
  • and many others

Adoption doesn’t necessarily mean that any of these problems are solved or that any objectives are met.  Adoption is a constant challenge for many organizations today.  I speak with many companies who are typically saying something along the lines of, “we deployed something and nobody is using it, what do we do?”  But getting that adoption needs to have some reasoning behind it, let’s say you had 100% active adoption of employees using whatever it is you deployed 10x a day, then what?  What is the point of the activity and of that usage?

It’s interesting because many organizations have no KPIs for their collaboration efforts and those that do set up KPIs rarely check in on them.  So it seems as though adoption and activity metrics have become the default metric(s) of choice to manage success.  As I’ve stated in the past this is focusing too much on the affect rather than the cause.  Perhaps this is because many companies don’t understand why they are deploying these tools to begin with.  This works for some companies but not for others.

What do you think?  Is adoption the new ROI as Adam suggests or should be looking beyond that?  What does your organization look at?

  • Well written

  • Gints Janelsins

    Hi Jacob, adoption definitly is not ROI. I would rather say that adoption is a performance indicator, a representation of how successful the implementation of the initiative is going. I would put it as a prerequisite for drawing any conclusions regarding achieving ROI. Assuming that the desired level of adoption is achieved, we can start looking at the ROI, has employee engagement increased, decisionmaking improved, project tasks accomplished on time etc. The basic premise being – if we fail with implementing the initiative, we cant make valid conclusions on achieving ROI. Thats like planning to win (ROI) in a championship. To do that, as a minimum you would need to assemble a full team of players. If you get only a half team and start complaining that you didnt win – its not a valid complaint, because a basic prerequisite was not met.

    • Hi Gints,

      Agree, as Gil stated above adoption is a KPI, one of many that organizations can measure if it indeed makes sense to them.  The issue for many companies is that they have their own definitions of what adoption means and looks like.  Adoption also needs to have some context behind it, for example is a reasonable expectation to have a 20% employee adoption rate or 90?

      You can still solve problems and see value from the 20% which means adoption can be low yet value can still be great.

  • “Adoption is the new ROI” is a pill not worth swallowing.  It’s misdirection. Never confuse effort with result. Adoption is not a goal, nor a return. It’s an interim step towards the goals. It’s important, but it’s not the goal. Business is about making money or saving money. If a tool helps you do one or the other — measure it.  If not, well, it might improve the quality of your workplace, it might invite potential serendipitous opportunity, it might be fun to do, but it’s not ROI. 

    So why is Yammer selling this line?  I think Yammer has demonstrated their ability to get adoption, but that’s about it. So when you have a good adoption story, you say “look we did it, we have the ‘new ROI'”  It’s like running a race, getting tired, and declaring that where you stopped running is where you really intended to stop all along.

    Jacob, your suspicion is correct, adoption is a KPI, not an ROI. Converting the adoption to value is the next challenge (after getting that adoption).  For Yammer, they have to convert their adoption rates to profit (or exit and for Yammer users, they too have to convert adoption rates to real profit (by using tools to drive their business value).

    • I think you make some excellent points here Gil.  I’ve read in numerous places that Yammer is having a hard time converting their free subscribers to paying users.  Bob Thompson over at CustomerThink also made an interesting point saying that Adoption falls on the shoulders of the vendor whereas ROI falls on the shoulder of the organization.

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  • Lisette Sutherland

    I help organizations set up private social networks for a living and find that very few people design a strategy before doing it. So many, in fact, that I started forcing my new community managers to go through the process:

    In my opinion, the key component to adoption is setting up a community that people actually NEED. So first we design a strategy, then we build the community and collect data, and then we continuously refine the strategy (based on the data) until we’ve built something that provides real value for the members. I broke success down into 3 categories: involved, engaged, and enchanted. When people show up to the community, they are involved. When they do something in the community, they are engaged, and when members recommend the community to others, they are enchanted: