Can Software Increase User Adoption?

After writing a product review on, I had a discussion on twitter with @ericatoelle where she argued that software and tools don’t really don’t increase SharePoint adoption. At first, I was taken back and thought, “Wow, how can you say that?” To me, it seems like a lot of SharePoint’s barriers to entry have to do with the complexity of performing what should be simple tasks. Third party tools can fill these tools and dramatically improve the user experience. When it comes to managing documents and document metadata, simplifying the user experience seems to me to be something that would really make a difference. Erica talks about SharePoint adoption as intrinsic motion on her blog with a great reference to a Ted Talk. I love Ted Talks.

That said, I do think I see where Erica is coming from. It’s far too easy for IT to gloss over the user adoption problem, and instead try and patch it up with a stand-alone tool. I totally agree that this one-off approach won’t work.

But when your strategy is to use a tool to bring contextual access to SharePoint from within your users’ preferred client, and you support their experience with proper education and a community, you’ll make your users a lot happier. It’s the community, brown bag training, and all-around active *LISTENING* that will get people to move from using file shares and email for document sharing to using SharePoint. You heard their requirements, but did you reflect them back to users? Did you help them get past why IT thinks SharePoint is so great for business and actually show how SharePoint can save them time and effort? And did you show them how SharePoint within the context of their workflow makes their jobs that much easier?

The following three strategies are key to increasing user adoption. Keep in mind that any single approach won’t solve your adoption needs; you need all three to be successful.

1. User Education: Barriers to adopting new technology have a lot to do with people’s discomfort with the new way of doing things. Often times these tools feel foreign, and for many business users, adopting new tools doesn’t come naturally. So the more we can do to make SharePoint feel like an organic extension of what people are accustomed to, the easier we make it for people to realize its value. IT talking business value doesn’t sell product usage; positive personal experience does.

2. Community: When users call support for help with their issues, and the support/help desk says… “I’m sorry but that issue you’re having isn’t something that is broken, so I can’t help you… Call back when you have a problem…” the user is going to say some very bad things about support. They’re also likely to say the product sucks. Users need someone they can talk to — a product coach or a community guru who’s down the hallway or at least within an email’s or newsgroup’s reach away. FAQs, Knowledge Base articles, and self -help tools are a good start. But it’s the microblogging and getting questions answered quickly that will make your adoption strategy successful.

3. Client Tools and Solutions: Client tools like that bridge the gap by bringing SharePoint into people’s work environments can really make a difference. For example, if I’m used to saving files and dragging them into my file share or simply attaching documents to an email and sending it to a public folder for archiving, then I’m going to need the new process to be just as easy to navigate. To save a document into SharePoint, I’m going to struggle with the long URLs and I’m going to struggle with copying the URL to the email, saving the document locally and then uploading it to the server. If there’s a tool that can make this process 4x to 6x faster, then it’s going to make my life easier. Now I’m listening. Especially if I see that SharePoint ultimately benefits me and not just IT. Give me end-to-end solutions – not patches.

You may have heard Apple’s suggestion that apps in the app store should not need documentation. I’d suggest the same with most client-based SharePoint tools. Things need to be that intuitive and simple. But until we get there with desktop software, we need cohesive solutions that include training and community support. What do you think???

Joel Oleson was a speaker at the European SharePoint Conference 2011. Why not keep up to date with Joel’s amazing work by joining our community or by following us on twitter or facebook!

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