Failure to Launch: 5 Common Challenges of Digital Transformation Adoption

Across different digital transformation use cases are the same adoption mistakes that hinder organizations’ full realization of digital transformation’s potential, including: not focusing on adoption past the critical first three to five months; not planning for project fatigue; or failing to train users when they need it most—in application.

The phrase, “digital transformation,” has come to describe every possible intersection of technology with the customer, employee, or business model. There’s no one way to describe it except for, maybe, anecdotally: complex, expensive, and often make-or-break initiatives that frequently fail to live up to their full potential. 

Across so many totally different digital transformation use cases are the exact same adoption mistakes that hinder organizations’ full realization of digital transformation’s potential. Take making the mistake of not focusing on adoption past the critical first three to five months; not planning for project fatigue; or failing to train users when they need it most—in application. All of these are common of companies who get so close but don’t fully achieve their digital transformation goals.

Here are five common challenges companies experience as they near the end of a digital transformation initiative:

1. Adoption is not a one-and-done phenomena.

Adoption is never complete. Many complex applications fail to meet their potential because of under-adoption of the application’s broad functionality. This is exacerbated by changes over time due to upgrades, application optimizations, APIs and integrations, and an increasingly complex digital workplace. Then there’s the reality of a dynamic workforce with hiring, turnover, role changes, mergers and acquisitions, and business model evolution. To treat adoption as simply a project task is short-sighted, and threatens to undermine the years of work, millions of dollars invested, and organizational disruption endured.

2. Change management is a lifecycle function, not a project function.

In the last few years, recognition of the importance and value of change management to a digital transformation project has been increasingly embraced. Unfortunately, this embracing of change management is project focused, and doesn’t sustain through the ongoing adoption phases.

Change management should start early, before the selection of a systems integrator, before the software selection and before the current state assessment and future state/business process improvement design phases. Properly involved and constituted, change management can be an invaluable asset to an organization’s ability to absorb, and thrive during and after, digital transformation. 

3. Users need real-time training.

The explosion of learning technologies over the last 10 to 15 years has created a fractured, and often confusing, learning landscape. Many of these technologies are bound to a specific application, as opposed to supporting enterprise-wide accessibility. Perhaps most frustrating is that they all require users to disrupt their workflow by leaving what they are working on…to learn something about what they are working on! What’s needed is the ability to provide users with the precise knowledge they need to accomplish a process or transaction while they are actually doing that process or transaction. Proficiency should be enabled in real-time to achieve the best outcomes. Incorporating a productivity acceleration platform will give users the guidance and assistance they need at their moment of need, in the flow of work. 

4. Adoption of technology is a systemic problem.

To be successful, digital transformations require a large, and potentially massive, project team and infrastructure. The team must be well-staffed with internal and external expertise, well-organized with expert project management, and well-funded, with realistic expectations of timeline and workforce disruption. But therein lies another problem—a “project mindset” can take over a digital transformation initiative, resulting in many of the important project capabilities (current state assessment, business process improvement and ideation, change management, user enablement, etc.) failing to extend to the enterprise. Even an organization of 500 people can have dozens of complex applications in its ecosystem, and some organizations, particularly those who’ve grown through acquisition or have disparate businesses (industry, geography), can easily have hundreds. If the issue of adoption is a problem for the transformation project, it’s a problem for the broader application ecosystem for all the same reasons.

5. Plan for project fatigue.

Digital transformation projects involve so many people (internal and external) over such a long period of time that exhaustion—staff exhaustion, budget exhaustion, time exhaustion—is inevitable. Systems integrators, project management consultants, and software companies disappear after go-live. By that time, many internal staff have self-selected out of the project or have left the organization altogether. Once key internal players reach exhaustion, and the external players are gone, end-users are left to live with the changes when a company reaches the go-live date. And without dedicated resources in place before go-liveto ensure end-users are equipped with the knowledge and support they need to effectively use the new technology, adoption will be irrevocably hurt. Transformation will never live up to its full potential, because users will not effectively adopt the technology.

The success of digital transformation depends on overcoming these common challenges. Beating the “failure to launch” mistakes with these best practices in place will actively empower users to achieve maximum adoption of new technologies.

Michael Graham is the founder/CEO of Epilogue Systems, which is dedicated to redefining workplace productivity in the enterprise. In 2018, the company shifted its focus from performance support to enablement intelligence with the launch of its productivity acceleration platform Opus. Opus takes over where Epilogue Systems’ classic solution left off, evolving enterprises’ focus from driving basic application onboarding and adoption to enhancing user and team performance across global workforces. Learn more at