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How Does Digital Adoption Work? A Basic & Advanced Explanation

How does digital adoption work

Digital adoption is fast becoming the top item on every enterprise agenda.

In fact, CIO legacies are hanging in the balance; will they nail digital adoption or won’t they?

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It’s no longer a matter of finding out what digital adoption is — we know that. It’s achieving a state where digital tools are being used as intended and to their fullest extent.

Now, the question on everyone’s lips is, how does digital adoption work?

Digital adoption: the basics

Broadly speaking, we can break digital adoption down in terms of speed as follows:

  • Innovators – Those who innovate and develop new technology
  • Early Adopters – Enthusiasts and others who want or need to adopt technology very quickly
  • Early Majority – Those who are open to new ideas and innovations, but slightly more conservative than early adopters
  • Late Majority – Together with the early majority, this group makes up the bulk of adopters
  • Laggards – This group waits very late to adopt new technology, and are the most conservative in terms of technology acceptance

These are the different categories of “adopters” usually listed with reference to technology adoption

But this doesn’t actually tell us how does digital adoption work.

How does digital adoption work: 3 phases

The process of digital adoption is complex and different for everyone. For this reason, we often look to change management theory for ideas about how the adoption process will go.

In broader technology implementation terms, we can divide the process of digital adoption into 3 stages:


Onboarding to new technology is critical. Get it wrong and it’s highly unlikely your users will stay. 9 out of 10 apps are used only once, so a successful onboarding process is essential for your digital product to gain any traction.

Onboarding must be welcoming and easy — if the process is too complex, users will become frustrated and churn.   


If you’ve successfully passed the onboarding phase, users should be operating your tool, perhaps even on a regular basis. 

However, simply using technology is not enough. To achieve maximum ROI, users must be using the technology as intended and to its fullest capability.

Right there, that is the definition of digital adoption


According to WalkMe’s Complete Glossary of Digital Adoption

“Digital adoption occurs when a business invests in new technology, adopts a digital mindset, and evolves processes so users can maximize proficiency on a given software or app.”

I think we can agree this is describing something way beyond usage. 

So those are the 3 phases of digital adoption. However, when it comes to laggards, early and late majority, we’re facing a challenging initial phase: 


New technology, or digital change, is often considered a negative thing. It can trigger uncomfortable feelings for users, such as fear and frustration.

The normal reaction to these feelings is resistance. As human beings, generally speaking, when faced with something unfamiliar, we feel uncertain and threatened, rather than engaged and eager.

So, as far as the question “how does digital adoption work” goes, it’s often a matter of overcoming resistance to change and technology — not just initially but as a continual process.

How does digital adoption work: the change management approach

We previously mentioned change management theory and there are a couple of models in particular that are useful in relation to digital adoption.


Prosci’s ADKAR is a useful guide when approaching major or minor digital transitions. ADKAR is an acronym of the 5 key ingredients of change:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to demonstrate skills and behavior
  • Reinforcement to make the change stick

2. Kotter’s 8 steps

Organizational change management expert, John Kotter, produced his own useful framework in the form of eight steps:

  1. Create a sense of urgency (for change)
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  4. Enlist a volunteer army
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change

But if all this leaves you thinking, “I’m busy — I don’t have time for business psychology right now,” there’s a simpler solution.

Using a Digital Adoption Platform as part of your technology implementation or digital transformation strategy means you needn’t go into the details of how does digital adoption work.

The Digital Adoption Platform is recognized by Gartner as a Digital Adoption Solution, which they report as the secret to improving sales productivity.

 “Digital adoption solutions are used to improve adoption of multiple tools across the organization. The software walks a user through business processes across multiple products. It provides a consistent user experience, eliminating in some cases manual entry.”

To avoid having to understand how does digital adoption work, research Digital Adoption Solutions — and have AI take care of it for you.

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Digital Adoption Team

A wonderful team of Digital Adoption, Digital Transformation & Change Management Experts.