Overlay-Technologie: Schritt für Schritt zum Ziel?

Overlay technologies – opportunities and limits

In today’s era of digital transformation, overlay technologies and tools seem unavoidable. After all, they guide users step by step to where they need to be. But do they always ultimately provide what they initially promise?

If you want to get ahead of the competition, you’ll need to surf the digitalization wave. If you don’t, you’re at risk of being washed out with the tide. Many companies have now figured this out. The reality is that digitalization is gaining traction and the number of new technologies and applications is rising. It’s therefore no wonder there is huge interest in solutions that make it easier for users to operate new applications.

The latest buzzword on the web is “overlay” – the centerpiece of many digital adoption platforms (DAPs). Companies looking to make their technologies more profitable and software providers eager to drive up user adoption have further stimulated the growth of these digital adoption platforms. But who can afford this technology? How do overlays differ from other digital adoption technologies? And what should a company bear in mind when choosing a digital adoption solution?

Walkthroughs – a reliable guide

In the context of DAPs, an overlay is a technology that directly superimposes step-by-step guides on web applications. Much like with a satnav, users are reliably guided from field to field through a certain task, transaction or activity, and thus quickly find their feet, for example in a new company software program. This kind of targeted navigation makes life easier, particular for users who need to get the hang of lots of different tools. As such, overlays can boost employee satisfaction, help avoid errors, and take some of the strain off the IT support budget.

Some DAP providers have integrated robotic process automation (RPA) functions into their solutions so that processes run fully automatically. Among other things, automation is suited to tasks that follow fixed rules and always follow the same pattern, as is the case in accounting or HR administration, for example. Looking at it from this perspective, many tasks suited to an overlay approach are also first-class candidates for automation. But are overlay technologies also the best choice when it comes to getting to grips with a new software program?

Please check carefully!

To answer this question, we need to take a look behind the scenes of the navigation. In demonstrations, overlays win people over with their intuitive software walkthrough, which is directly superimposed on a website. But to create this kind of walkthrough, every single step or action must be featured in the sequence. The challenge lies in having to go back and tweak the sequence every time there’s a change in the process. To continue the satnav metaphor – as with all intelligent systems, a team of employees have to constantly update data, for example to flag up roadblocks, traffic jams or other changes. If they don’t, users could wind up in a dead end. The upkeep involved in this is something companies need to take into account. That is why they should carefully check in advance how often their web applications change, say because of short release cycles, new regulations or new processes.

The problem with upkeep

When it comes to applications that undergo regular change, companies can hire content managers to continuously update the sequences. As a result, changes and updates go hand in hand and users don’t have to deal with error messages popping up on their screens. That’s not all, though. In many cases, an interrupted sequence prevents users from working in the system – achieving the opposite of what the solution is actually supposed to do.

The other option is to go for alternative technologies. This is where digital adoption solutions that are laid next to the application – not over it like walkthroughs are – and guide users through the process in the form of step-by-step guides provide valuable help. Although these solutions also need to be kept up to date, they don’t interrupt the process if a step happens to have changed. Since they always give the user an insight into other steps, they can also provide that all-important information needed to carry out the next steps. 

In light of ever-shorter release cycles, the incredibly fast transformation of business environments, and a constant stream of changes to legal and other regulations, companies should therefore make their choice with caution.

Tunnel vision instead of foresight?

Besides the great deal of upkeep involved, there is another aspect that companies should bear in mind when selecting the right solution for them – the increase in knowledge. Overlay technologies clearly guide users from A to B. Yet despite getting the job done, the user learns next to nothing. To make matters worse, they might be taking certain risks because they lack information needed to accomplish their task.
Going back to the navigation system example, while they may be good at getting drivers to their destination, drivers might also pick up a handful of traffic tickets along the way because they didn’t adhere to speed restrictions for vehicles with a trailer or roof box, or were unaware of customs regulations. This is exactly the sort of information their satnav doesn’t provide.

Let’s now turn our minds back to the world of business. In recruitment, many processes are mapped using HCM or HXM solutions, which can also be supported by overlay technologies. The task of filling vacant positions, for example, often involves various departments – and the process only runs smoothly if data and documents are correctly passed on via the system. An overlay can carry out the necessary steps in this regard. However, the technology starts to falter when it comes to further relevant knowledge – be that information about how to correctly handle data or concepts for deleting documents containing personal information.

Transposed to the context of CRM systems, overlay technologies can help users generate leads or sales opportunities. The problem is that this help comes to an end if the user switches to another application and thus changes software program. And this happens quite regularly, for example if data needs to be transferred by way of an Outlook integration, or if an Excel file exported from the CRM system needs to be formatted properly.

All things considered, then, walkthroughs lead to tunnel vision, with users often failing to cast their eyes further afield. An end-to-end solution, however, offers the opportunity to provide all relevant knowledge. When selecting the tool for them, companies therefore need to ask themselves how important it is for users to become experts in the application. If this aspect takes priority, companies should opt for more extensive digital adoption solutions that also offer broader, context-specific knowledge during the relevant process. If the sole objective is to carry out, say, a transaction, fully automated RPA functions might well be a suitable option.

More versatility, please!

At this point, it is clear that overlay tools have their strong points, but they also have their limitations. They are certainly useful when it comes to support for web-based applications, particularly during rigid, linear processes that rarely change and need to be repeated with extreme precision. In practice, a DAP with overlay technology therefore tends to be used for a single software program in a single project. In such cases, however, it’s necessary to consider whether automation would not enhance the benefits even further.

In day-to-day operations, staff have to work with lots of different applications – be they web-based or desktop tools. Guides that are invariably built into the respective applications require users to take all kinds of access paths, making a central point of help impossible. This is not a desirable outcome for the company or the workforce, as it eventually gives rise to either new harmonization projects or an overstretched IT helpdesk.

Weighing up options is key

Before deciding on a software package, companies should therefore ask themselves the following question: Are we just looking to use one web-based application or do we want a digital adoption solution that can offer various forms of assistance in all applications and systems?

Companies that are keen to invest in their digital transformation should take their entire technology ecosystem into account and be sure to cover all their applications with one digital adoption solution. For that reason, they should carefully examine the full array of digital adoption solutions available on the market. Weigh up the overlay and walkthrough approach against more comprehensive systems that can offer business advice and knowledge in addition to support while navigating software. The range of solutions available is getting bigger by the day. It won’t be easy to make up your mind, but it’s better to make your decision at the start than to drag it out till the end.