Technology Adoption Within the Organization

Technology Adoption Within the Organization

I wrote my business school thesis on nonprofit technology adoption.  My research compared the aggregate adoption of nonprofits between metro areas to identify the critical factors to adopting technology.  The research led me to raise a red flag with the Boston nonprofit community to let folks know that we were actually significantly behind in our technology adoption.  (   Little did I know then that I wouldn't be convincing sector leaders about technology investment, but rathering I would spend the better part of the next decade of my professional life convincing individual internal customers to adopt the latest technologies in a CIO/CTO role.  Here's what I've learned over the last decade.

No how much better the new solution, there will always be a curve for adoption.

The above picture shows a typical S-curve for technology adoption.  There's always curve, but what timeframe that curve is on is dependent on the quality of the rollout plan and the capacity of staff and volunteers to assimilate the new technology.  Different audiences on the adoption curve have much different needs and issues to get over the adoption hump.  

People learn in different ways.

When rolling out a new technology, internal customers often need to be trained.  Depending on the technology, some folks can sit through a 45 minute classroom training or webinar and pick it up right away.  Other folks will call your helpdesk 3 or 4 times to get hands on one on one support. Early adopters will often not need any training, preferring to learn by doing or by following a quick reference guide or video.  To ensure adoption across the adoption curve provide different forms of training and support to different audiences.  

Always beta test.

Value your early adopters by creating a beta group for any new technology that is introduced.  Technical and business process issues often come to the fore with a group who is doing live testing.  These beta testers often become your internal champions with the rest of your staff and volunteers when you ready to launch.  

Technology laggards are often the squeakiest wheels and therefore tough to ignore. 

In my interview to be the Chief Information and Technology Officer at American Friends Service Committee, my now boss asked me, "What's your red button issue?"  I tried to bullshit the answer, but he pushed back insisting that I be my full self in the interview.  Here's my red button issue:  If I do all the necessary support, take all the steps I am discussing in this blog post, provide all the handholding and support that the IT could possibly provide, and you still resist the new technology, I'm not happy.  The truth is there will always be laggards though, and they are often the loudest complainers about any new technology.  Do your best to minimize their impact by being comprehensive in your support and using data, as described below.  

Support your adoption with data, both external and internal.

If organizational leaders need convincing or if your technology laggards are sounding off, use data to make your argument.  Leaders will often respond to external data as to what the sector is doing.  For example, is your organization behind your peer group in their use of a particular technology?  For folks who are challenging your technology, internal adoption data is helpful.  If you can make the case that 70% of staff and volunteers have already adopted the technology, the herd mentality can be a helpful argument to convince late adopters and laggards.  

You never get a second change to make a first impression.

I walked into an adoption of a new phone system taking over as CTO and there were real issues with reliability of the system.  Months later, we had resolved most of those issues, but there were still perception issues that we were never fully able to overcome.  Data about getting the failure rate for calls less than .5% was helpful, but it still wasn't enough.   The lessone is: if the technology isn't ready for prime-time...make sure the technology is ready for prime time before a major launch.  Early adopters and beta testers will be willing to suffer through bugs and issues, but your internal user base should not be made to do so.  

Be willing to make the tough call and withstand the wave of criticism.

Remember when Facebook was making interface changes on a semi-consistent basis?  Each time the user community was up in arms forming groups and posting that they would leave Facebook as a result of the interface change.  They are all still there.  It is always important to listen to your user base AND sometimes they don't know what they need.  Most folks aren't technology or user interface experts, so trust yourself and manage your way through some of the noise around the new technology.  Provide consistent messaging about the benefits and consistent training and support.  Leadership means not everyone is going to like you all the time.  Be willing to stick your neck out for a new technology or innovation in which you believe.


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