SaaS can't deliver without digital adoption - WalkMe Realize 2022 puts the focus on digital adoption ROI

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed April 6, 2022
Transformation efforts aren't pre-destined for success - and cloud software falls flat without adoption. At WalkMe Realize day one, digital adoption ROI was a crucial theme.

WalkMe Realize - Tobias Washington of Christus Health
(Talking digital adoption ROI with Christus Health)

Someone on your company's leadership team purchases SaaS - or maybe a new ERP system. They were swayed by the product's modern approach to finance, HR, etc. But do the users like it? Because without user adoption, you are nowhere.

True, cloud software generally offers a better user experience, especially for casual users. But business users are busy as heck, and spread all over the place. The days of working your way through a three-ring binder are over. Classroom training is going extinct. So how do we bridge that adoption gap?

WalkMe is part of an emerging group of vendors that has answers, via "Digital Adoption Platforms," or "DAPs." As I see it, the job of a "DAP," if you will allow me the acronym, is to help users intuitively get their jobs done, within the context of their roles and screens.

"It all starts with the CIO introducing that latest shiny object"

No surprise then, that WalkMe's virtual user conference, Realize 2022, put digital adoption at the center of the transformation narrative (day two of the show begins today; registration is free). Here's what I liked about day one: the focus on digital adoption ROI. If it can't produce results, a new software category is questionable. That's why I was drawn to the day one session, "Easy and Convincing Methods to Prove Digital Adoption ROI," which featured lessons from WalkMe customer Christus Health.

Thomas Howe, WalkMe's Digital Transformation Officer, framed the challenge:

Consider this conversation between CIO and CEO... It all starts with the CIO introducing that latest shiny object as unproven potential. Of course, the CEOs enthusiasm is tempered just a bit at first, in a 'wait and see' approach.

With the pilot complete, the CIO makes that initial transformational investment and so the journey begins. But wait, fast forward a few weeks, months - and hopefully not for the CIO's sake, years later - and the conversation quickly slips from that new tech honeymoon stage to the CEO looking for a return on their investment.

That's where digital adoption becomes the determining factor. Without it, have good luck funding your "transformation." So how do we establish an ROI for digital adoption? Howe turned to Tobias Washington (pictured right), Systems Director of Digital HR and Employee Experience for Christus Health. Washington told Realize attendees how it all began:

We were in the middle of moving from forty applications to one application. We knew that this was one of the times that this would touch the entire organization. And in my tenure at Christus, I had never done a project where the entire workforce would need to be trained or impacted in some capacity. [Author's note: that one application is Infor ERP].

We knew that we didn't want to do things the way we had always done them before. We knew that we needed a more modern solution that would help us make sure that every employee got what they needed, when they needed it.

Christus Health - an ambitious plan for a 'digital HR'

I know from prior talks with Washington that he is serious about changing the employee experience for the better. But to pull that off, you better be able to do it at scale. Washington told attendees that you need to "leverage practices that are, in some sense, scalable." If what you are doing is working for 100 people, you need to be able to make it happen for the other 30,000 - and quickly. So how do you scale? Because you're not getting to ROI without that.

Washington is passionate about a "digital HR," where employees are freed up to do what they need to do, without the HR paperwork and bureaucratic hoop-jumping. He's received quite a bit of recognition for this approach. As Washington previously told me:

My job evolved into what it is today because of my passion around things like WalkMe. In the past, my job was more rigid... But then some of the things we were doing in the learning space evolved into how we could do that more holistically - across the full talent spectrum.

Now, Washington tackles HR from a broadly ambitious view:

How do we make sure that the entire lifecycle, the entire employee experience, is digital, modern? Now, my role is the entire digital employee experience, where we start to look at all the different technologies that employees have to interact with to do their job.

HR obstacle number one: too many point solutions, creating confusion for employees.

I was just talking with our HR operations leader yesterday, [who didn't know which app to use]. I was like, 'That is the problem. You are the VP of HR, and you don't know where to go. Think about a nurse out there, who's trying to handle and juggle 20 patients. How does she figure out that we've got a portal for HR; we've got a portal for learning, and we've got a portal for IT, and we've got a portal for our benefits?

Washington is on a mission now:

My role now is to really start to look at those things, and figure out: how do we make the pre-boarding, onboarding, moving jobs, your everyday experience with our organization, from a digital perspective - how do we make that great?

One thing is certain: if you can pull this off amidst the pressure of today's healthcare settings, you are getting it done. But on the plus side, a health organization like Christus also has a mission to rally around:

I heard our CEO say something recently. One of the nurse leaders asked him: was he concerned about the financial outlook of the organization, because of our increase in overhead, around a nursing staff? He said, 'You know, I'm not so concerned about the finances of the organization as I am keeping our hospitals open, and keeping our beds open. There are hospital systems around us that are closing because they can't keep their beds open to the serve. Our hospitals are remaining open.'

We're still number one when it comes to charitable care in our communities.

Christus Health is an international Catholic health system made up of close to 350 services and facilities, including more than 60 hospitals and long-term care facilities, and 175 clinics. Many of those facilities are in rural areas where healthcare is otherwise lacking. Washington must pull off this HR transformation across geographies - operating out of their Dallas, Texas headquarters.

How do we achieve digital adoption ROI?

One challenge Washington faces: how do you get HR teams energized by these ideas? You can't just start talking to HR workers about "employee experience" and "digital adoption," and expect magic to happen. Here's how he does it:

The way I've been talking about this inside of our organization is, from an HR perspective, our employees are our customers. How how do we start to see them as customers of our services from an HR perspective - and really started to measure ourselves? Are we doing a good job to care about customers?

Which brings us to that ROI part again. Washington's team started using WalkMe with a few key apps users were moving to, and the users "really loved it." But that's just a start. As Howe put it:

You get to the point where your manager, your supervisor, asks you, 'Show me the money, show me the ROI.' What did you get asked about the value of WalkMe? Who asked, and how did you respond?


That is a critical question every leader will need to be able to answer at some point. I remember talking with my leader one time, bragging about what we were doing here, and how we will make things happen. And he said, 'You know what, that's really cool.'

I wanted for him to respond to WalkMe in a way that said, 'You know what, I can't live without that tool in my business process.'

That just lit a fire under me. I didn't want WalkMe to be known as the cool guy; I wanted WalkMe to be known - and Noah to be known - as the tool that was delivering business outcomes and bringing value to the organization. [Author's note: 'Noah' is the Christus Health in-house name for the WalkMe digital assistant chatbot users rely on, to help them learn new tools, navigate screens, and stay productive. You can read about Noah here.].

When Washington pressed the ROI issue with his team, he framed it in terms of outcomes: let's make sure everything we build gets a result. How? By turning to the data. As Washington told us:

With WalkMe, we have great data, great dashboards. So we started to use those to run our business, and say, 'Hey, we're running a DAP business; we want to be able to look at the data and say, Here's how WalkMe is adding value or not adding value.' So we would look at: if this walk-through was getting 50,000 hits. If that meant that we just delivered that application, that might be great.

Two years from now, 50,000 hits might not be as great. So is that actually the intended outcome we wanted? Then we started to have that conversation with our stakeholders, with our executives. So we would take that data. We take that quarterly report and say, 'Here, what we're thinking WalkMe has done for you over the last month - help us have a conversation about it.'

The data drives the dialogue - and keeps the project accountable to results. Washington says you have to have the tough conversations on what's working and what's not. Keep that feedback going with all your stakeholders:

It was just great to me to hear that our stakeholders were participating in the conversation. They're giving us feedback; they are saying what they think is important to them, and we have something to continue to work on, derive and deliver from again.

That helps us also make sure that whenever someone talks about WalkMe, whenever someone talks about how they're delivering organizational change in our business, they see Noah as an integral part of the digital transformation project, their business project, or whatever they're doing.

Given Washington's mission to transform the employee experience, he has plenty of work ahead. But it's always worthwhile to come up for air at an event like WalkMe Realize, and boil down what you've learned so far. I look forward to seeing how far Christus Health can take this.

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