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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert

Introduction to Digital Adoption

By introducing new digital tools and technologies, not just in the SAP ecosystem, companies can maximize their potential, make their processes more effective, and increase their competitiveness. As more and more people and businesses use digital tools, it is increasingly important that they are used productively, effectively, and efficiently. Some people think that fun should also play a role. So far, so good.

The problem is that the opportunities of digital transformation are often not always fully exploited or leveraged, which then reduces satisfaction and acceptance. Approaches to improve usage and acceptance are called “digital adoption”. This goes far beyond the mere introduction of software in a company. 

This blog is the beginning of a blogging challenge!

Since there are many perspectives on digital adoption, we want to invite experts and enthusiasts in the SAP ecosystem to share their insights and experiences. Originally we started in german language – however a there was so much interest we also support participation in English language. The terms of participation can be found  here in the separate blog. Let’s explore and share the world of digital adoption. Below is my view of adoption, adaption and transformation as a general introduction.

What is digital adoption and why is it so important?

Digital adoption is important because it improves the efficiency and productivity of companies by enabling the full use of digital tools and technologies. It fosters innovation by opening up new opportunities for business models and business transformation. In addition, it is crucial for competitiveness as companies that use digital technologies effectively are responding more agile to market changes. The business world is increasingly fast-paced, more complex, and more insecure, which also requires effective use of software. A zoo of software tools that are not really used effectively is increasingly becoming a problem as it needs too much resources, cost and attention.

Digital adoption is particularly important in the SAP ecosystem, because the processes that are supported by the software are complex and critical. Effective use of SAP technologies can lead to significant cost savings, improved business processes and better decision-making through data-driven insights. In addition, the ability to leverage SAP systems effectively can help realize the benefits of new SAP innovations faster.

It should be borne in mind that there are very different perspectives and expectations on the subject of adoption.

  • The management view consists of the typical management goals, such as increased efficiency, cost reduction, employee satisfaction and retention, innovation and growth, or security.
  • Depending on the companies department, this still varies – so a CIO is certainly also very interested in data protection, scaling, or that the IT infrastructure runs at low total cost of ownership or low integration costs.
  • Users expect ease of use, easy learning possibilities, increased productivity, and other benefits depending on the role in the company. And not to forget: they expect little to no frustration.
  • Adoption in the cloud is also important for software vendors themselves. Because if customers do not use the software, the subscription contract may not be renewed. For this reason, after-sales, for example, with functions related to customer success management, is increasingly important for vendors – and customers benefit from this again.

Digital Adoption Models and Frameworks

What is Digital Adoption: Best possible Software Use, User Acceptance, or Utilization Rate? I have always struggled with the term adoption, as it is usually used for adopting kids or pets. However I come to the naming and the importance of adaption of tasks, processes and mindset later. Digital Adoption means that a software or technology is used to a certain extent. The associated objectives depend heavily on the respective perspective. Let’s start with familiar models and concepts in this field.

Diffusion and penetration of innovation – probably the oldest model

Everett Rogers model "diffusion model of innovation" already described in 1962 how new ideas and technologies are adopted in a society or organization. According to Rogers, the process consists of five stages: knowledge, conviction, decision, implementation, and confirmation.

The model also divides people into five categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

For digital adoption, this means that new digital tools and technologies are not adopted simultaneously and to the same extent by everyone in an organization, but move at different speeds and readiness. Reflecting the daily job relevance of Rogers' model, you can derive the following:

  • Know your audience and their willingness to adopt technology.
  • Inform and train your employees about the new digital tools.
  • Provide ongoing support and celebrate successes.
  • Use innovators and early adopters as "ambassadors" and feedback providers for new technologies.
  • Acknowledge that different segments of people need more or less time.

In terms of research results, Rogers' work shows that usually only 2.5% of the population is considered innovators, while 13.5% are early adopters, 34% early majority, 34% late majority, and 16% laggards. This normal distribution helps in a realistic assessment of the penetration and acceptance of technologies.

I’m pretty much opposed to drawer thinking, yet this model can help shape change better. The goal of change management should be to shift the curve to the left and have less late majority and laggards.  

Crossing the Chasm – Overcoming the Gap to Mass Usage by Geoffrey Moore

Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" model describes the challenge of reaching a broad majority of users with innovative technologies used initially by early adopters. Applied to the digital adoption process, this means the following:

  1. Focus: Define your audience well, perhaps in segments and waves and focus all efforts on it.
  2. Clear positioning: Explain explicitly which problems your technology solves and what distinguishes it from others.
  3. Support – Ensure strong product support with guidance, tutorials, and customer service.
  4. Build a network: Close partnerships and alliances to build trust in your product.
  5. Enable evolution – Make sure your technology can adapt and evolve to respond to changing customer expectations.

Disruptive innovations according to Clayton Christensen 

The approach of “Disruptive innovation  by Clayton M. Christensen implies that new, often simpler and cheaper technologies replace established processes. It is relevant to digital adoption because it forces companies to accept and learn new ways of thinking and doing business. What does this mean for digital adoption? In my opinion, you should:

  1. Identify disruptive technologies at an early stage and reflect the relevance for you.
  2. Promote a culture of experimentation and learning.
  3. Actively adopt disruptive innovations instead of ignoring them – better cannibalize yourself than waiting for others doing it.
  4. Empower employees through learning and actively manage change.
  5. Plan in the long term and include transition phases.

“Crossing the Chasm” and the approach of disruptive innovations are models from marketing and business theory and not empirically proven. For me, however, both confirm approaches and mindsets that I appreciate from organizational development or change management.

The Technology Acceptance Model - a Scientific Perspective

The "Technology Acceptance Model" (TAM) by Viswanath Venkatesh and Fred D. Davis is an information system theory model designed to explain how users adopt and use technologies. It focuses on two factors how someone accepts a new technology:

  • The Perceived usefulness refers to how much the user believes that using the technology will improve their job performance.
  • Perceived ease-of-use describes how easily and free from effort the user believes he can use the technology.

Acceptance is first of all an attitude and thus the intention of a person to use a system in the future. The acceptance behavior resulting is the observable behavior, expressed by the actual use of the system.

Other influencing variables were also esearched like social influence (subjective norms, voluntariness, image) and cognitive instrumental processes (job relevance, output quality, result demonstrability, perceived ease of use). Find more information here in the article on Wikipedia.

Digital adoption can be supported by the TAM model by maximizing the perceived usefulness and usability of digital tools:

  1. Purpose, impact and value: Make sure the individual benefits of the new technology are clearly communicated and experienced. Employees should understand how technology makes their work-life more efficient and better.
  2. Easy of use: The good user-centered design and usability of the technology are crucial.
  3. Support and training – Provide support and training for the technology to enable fast onboarding and to minimize usability issues and obstacles.

The model is relatively simple and therefore helpful as a checklist. It has also been continuously scientifically enhanced, validated and criticized. For example, at SAP in the Learning & Training area, we used it in the following bachelor thesis:  Acceptance and Motivation in Social Learning.

Organizational Change Management Models

Prosci’s ADKAR model is a framework for change management that is used in many IT projects. Five steps describe how individuals can succeed in change:

  1. Awareness: Understanding of the need for change.
  2. Desire: Commitment and active support for change.
  3. Knowledge: Understand how to change and what the new way of working or behavior is.
  4. Ability: Be able to implement the desired change and to develop new skills.
  5. Reinforcement: Keeping-up with the change and avoidance of fall back into old behavior patterns.

This model is primarily used to address the human factors that influence the process of change. It helps to make change initiatives more effective. It is also always helpful to show that awareness is not equal to knowledge or ability and that steadiness and continuous reinforcement are also important.

The Kübler-Ross model describes five emotional phases that people undergo in change: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
In the context of digital adoption, people affected can go through these phases. Although this model comes from the context of handling grief, this emotional view can help to understand responses and develop appropriate support during IT adoption. It is important, among other things, to reflect that people go through these phases at different speeds. You should also discuss these phases with communication and integration. Important to state is, that the phases per se have not been empirically validated.

Adoption vs. Adaption

Attached is a separate visualization of the affective reactions as a pyramid. 


Love may be a bit exaggerated, but I found these different levels helpful. So while both adoption and adaptation involve change and learning, they focus on different aspects of the interaction between users and software. Adoption is about learning to use the tool, while adaptation is about changing oneself to fit the tool. Also in SAP Projects we need to consider both. To reap the real benefits you need to transform and adapt work processes, tasks, responsibilities and this impacts behaviors and the mindset. Only looking at digital adoption is thus too much focused on IT and technology only and not on the transformation. See a more detailed reflection in the blog Beyond Adoption - the Importance of Adaption in digital Transformation.

Solution Adoption as Part of SAP Activate

Last but not least, I want to introduce the SAP Activate model. SAP Activate is a framework from SAP to implement SAP S/4HANA and other SAP solutions. SAP Activate is the successor of Accelerated SAP (ASAP) to implement SAP solutions. The approach distinguishes six components: Discover, Prepare, Explore, Realize, Deploy, and Run.

What many may not even know is the many tools, information, and templates that are open accessible through SAP Activate. Much can be accessed via the Roadmap Viewer. You can use this to get to know the work packages and even download other slides, tools, and templates which should accelerate your projects.
Depending on whether the focus is on a cloud, on-premise, or upgrade project, you can choose the appropriate methodology. The content in format of ppt & xl is a bit oldschool, however it is a good start.  

SAP projects have quiet some give standards as they are IT projects. E.G. at some point of the time you need to configure, test or go-live. So change management and enablement can be relatively standardized. This is a big difference to other change projects such as a merger, cultural change or a reorganization.

In addition to project management, architecture, or testing, there is also the Solution Adoption work stream as part of SAP Activate. Many work packages and tasks have already been pre-defined and it is recommended to take advantage of this. The following graphic shows the work packages along the SAP Activate phases. Detailed information can be found in the SAP Activate Community or in the blog Change Management along SAP Activate


Digital adoption through user interface design 

User research methods help to understand users’ needs and to develop user-centric solutions. The well known method of Design thinking is used to create ideas in an interdisciplinary setup and to quickly create prototypes. The involvement of users in the design process aims to get higher acceptance and usage of the software. In this way, co-innovation and co-creation enables users to actively participate in the design of the software. Without going further into detail, these examples show that digital adoption is already central to the design and development of software and digital services. 

Digital adoption at well-known cloud companies

Digital adoption is particularly important for cloud providers. In the subscription payment model, which is sometimes even usage-based, the subscription contract is terminated quickly if companies do not use the technology or do not see the benefits. And of course, satisfied customers are important. Therefore, all cloud companies deal with the topic of adoption. See here two examples:

  • Microsoft Azure: The Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure with the elements strategy, planning, deployment, operation, and optimization is a process model. It is also interesting to say that no MS365 project should be carried out without change and adoption services. Microsoft employees are usually certified in the Adkar Change approach of Prosci.
  • Amazon Webservices / AWS Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF): Business, People, Governance, Platform, Security and Operations are the cornerstones here.

Digital Adoption for SAP software & technology – the big picture

If you look at the different disciplines and topic areas, you can differentiate between three areas that help SAP customers with digital adoption.



See in the following some further details.

Organizational Change Management (OCM) Services

OCM supports the transition to new technologies and processes by focusing especially on human elements. This includes, but is not limited to: Change management strategies and plans, communication and engagement models, and training. The advantage is that OCM helps mitigate resistance to change and increase adoption of new technologies.

You can also learn more about user adoption, including the challenge of low user adoption in SAP cloud projects, in this unit of the online course "Organizational Change Management in Cloud Projects".

SAP uses its own framework with the elements Change Strategy, Change Leadership, Change communication, Change implementation, Change enablement and Change Effectiveness. For more information about the approach, see the blog “What are key focus areas in SAP Organizational Change Management?”

There are also other services such as Deep Transformation Insights. We also regularly discuss success factors in the SAP Change and Training community. Here is a list from recent sessions of good practices:

  • A change story with metaphors aligned to the organizational context combining emotions and strategy.
  • Targetgroup specific communication is recommended, e.g. KPIs for management, presentation of personal benefits for users
  • Change cannot be delegated to consultants! Responsibility must always be clarified and owned in the respective organization.
  • The ability to change can be strengthened in a targeted way through learning offers, guidance and frames, instead of only looking at resistance to change.
  • No standard or fancy methodology: Change models should always be adapted or use what is known in the organization.
  • Involvement/invitation in change creates motivation and you can leverage know-how according to the familiar rule: Commitment comes through involvement.
  • Even if cloud software is standardized and you cannot adjust all features, involvement still makes sense.
  • Change Community & Networks with multipliers and change agents by area or location helps with feedback and rollout.
  • Communication is more than information: Polls, AMA (Ask me Anything), surveys, participatory formats like workshops generate more engagement like just one-way communication via e-mail or sharepoint sites.
  • OCM should be differentiated from project management and positioned centrally in the project.
  • Use data with Change assessments such as Readiness assessment at the beginning, change impact assessment to identify focus areas by process and personas. You can carry out assessments or pulse checks in every SAP Activate phase to understand the status of awareness, commitment & motivation, enablement and finally adoption.

SAP Enablement: Training, Certification, and Performance Support

In addition to guidance (strategy), allowance (empowerment), motivation (values and rules), the ability, meaning the skill to use software, is very important. It is important to provide all those affected by the SAP Software with suitable learning resources and contents.

Formal offerings such as e-learning courses, simulations, demos, a well-searchable  documentation, or classroom training are already widely used.

In addition, fostering collaborative learning can be really helpful. This can be user communities, key-user networks or regular events with updates and the possibility to ask questions.

When it comes to the very specific use of software, learning can be integrated in the work process using digital assistants and chatbots.

Especially in the case of cloud software, it must be held in mind that updates and continuous learning is key due to the regular cloud updates. This can be supported through push messages in the system or well-searchable knowledge bases and key user networks.

Who exactly does user enablement look like in the SAP context?

For expert users, such as the SAP project team, SAP training is used in various methods. Courses can take place virtually or in a classroom, guided by experienced trainers. Alternatively, self-led digital learning is possible with the SAP Learning Hub, which includes e-learning, communities, live-webinards and training systems.

SAP Certification enables professionals, such as SAP consultants, to prove their knowledge and skills in certain SAP technologies and solutions. This once again helps with quality control.

SAP Enable Now is often used to enable end-users. In general SAP Enable Now can create, manage, and deliver learning and learning content. Different methods are possible – usually a mix of them makes most sense. Whether e-learning, such as Web-based trainings or tutorials, support with learning tutorials, documentation or guided tours via the in-app help through the SAP Companion, general documentation and support materials, or complete knowledge bases. The SAP Companion in particular helps with learning in the work process.

A lot of learning content already comes directly with the SAP software without additional cost, embedded in the Help area (of course also developed with SAP Enable Now). You can use SAP Enable Now to adapt and extend this content to your company needs. There is also the appropriate category for this software: it is called Digital Adoption Platform (DAP).

Technical SAP Consulting and Support

Whether by SAP or by partners: Support from experienced consultants is particularly helpful for adoption when implementing software. This can be aimed at helping you to help yourself, or simply delegating tasks and work packages to experienced experts.

To optimize the adoption of cloud products, SAP offers its customers SAP Preferred Success: This is a newer premium support service that provides customers with an assigned Success Manager, who performs regular checks, looks sfter incident management, offers additional services including proactive support and tailored guidance for new releases. The advantage is that this service helps to optimize the success of the SAP implementation as well as helps to accelerate regular updates during operations and thus to improve adoption.

Digital Adoption Summary

That was the big picture on digital adoption. We see some familiar concepts and options, but also some newer ones, such as learning in the work flow with digital assistants or data driven Change Management. The wave of generative artificial intelligence will certainly support adoption and we will see more intelligent personalized user interfaces in the future. Support via chatbot, recommendations, or voice control looks possible here.

However, when reading the above approaches, it becomes clear that users need to be put at the center, organizational change management, technical support, and enablement are essential – no matter how it is delivered in detail. We also see: adoption is necessary, but adaption of processes, tasks and mindset are key to reap the real potential in digital transformation.  

The advantage of SAP is the integrated approach, native integration incl. content for applications such as SAP Enable Now or the deep expertise in SAP processes and software.

Blogging Challenge call for participation: Share Your Perspective on Digital Adoption

Now I’m interested in the perspective of other experts on digital adoption, especially in the SAP ecosystem. Join the challenge in the SAP Training and Change Community group. The goal of the is to reflect on other perspectives on digital adoption, to share hands-on experiences, deep dive on certain aspects and to address the different subareas.

How does it work? Log on to the SAP Community, create a user for the groups and become member of our SAP Training and Change Management Group. Then share your perspectives in a blog post until the end of December 2023. If you write in English, you might also write your blog in the “normal” blogging function. Do not forget to use the custom tag (article tag) #beyondAdoption!

More information can be found here or message my colleague Jenny or me . And don’t forget to share the blog post on social media to get as many kudos as possible. The three posts with the most Kudos win an SAP Community Hoodie.

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