The process by which organizations and people adopt technology is a well-studied phenomenon, yet a lot of organizations operate seemingly in the dark without a proper methodology or model, often leaving them with tools which have little use or systems which are nearing the end of their lifespan soon after they are launched. It’s no mystery that many factors influence a decision on whether or not to pick up a new tool or product. How can one go about making such a decision when it often requires consideration of hundreds or more parameters. This article will look at some of the frameworks and models for technology adoption, as well as some practical examples of how to best approach new technology.
When thinking about the process of introducing a new technology into business operations, a number of major considerations should be assessed. These include an in-depth understanding of how this change would impact the existing workflow. While it may be typical to look at the bottom line, such as the resource and cost changes, it is also equally important to have a 30,000 foot view. Before embarking on a transformational project, its long-term impact on business and surrounding economic and social elements should also be well understood.
Crossing the Technology Chasm
Technology Adoption Lifecycle is a model which describes different phases of a technology lifecycle, together with the implied risk for adopting it during various phases. According to a one accepted model, the adoption lifecycle is divided into five distinct phases. It usually starts out with enthusiasts and visionaries, which can be defined as early adopters. They can gain the most advantage, but at the cost of a higher risk. These disruptors often create new business models and find significant improvements within existing processes. Then come the pragmatists and conservative companies, which tend to ride out the wave of innovation based on a more widespread adoption. A quick look at the historical census data reveals that most new technologies can take upward to twenty years before becoming mainstream.
A recent study of this model also revealed that there may be a so-called ‘chasm’ between those who spearhead new ideas and everyone else. Part of the reason for this divide is that in addition to standard arguments against early adoption, which includes financial and resource constraints, the actual reasons for change resistance are psychological. What this translates to is that there are technologies out there which few have adopted, although with huge success, yet the majority has not caught onto them yet and are simply waiting out. As a result, progress is stalled and opportunities are missed. There is, however, a way to overcome this fear of change.
When Brooklyn Bridge was first built in NYC around late 1800, people were very squeamish about crossing it. It took a circus and a large number of elephants to convince everyone that the newly built contraption was safe for people. It is perfectly natural for early adopters to question the benefits of a new system or platform. This could easily prevent full utilization of a new process or delay it for a long period of time, potentially costing money in lost opportunity. One approach which can help mitigate the risk of uncertainty is to test the new technology on a smaller scale through a smaller pilot or proof of concept.
Many established organizations have built internal innovation labs specifically for this purpose. From the operational perspective, it may be challenging for a business unit to allocate additional time and resources needed to adopt a new process. Instead, an innovation lab can run pilots and smooth out any wrinkles before the rest of the organization formally adopts the new technology. Some of the more known breakthrough and disrupting ideas came out of such innovation labs. These include Kindle and Echo from Amazon’s Lab126, as well as Google Glass, and Slack, which began as in internal tool for an online game developer. Had any of these products been launched directly in the market in their raw untested state, their success would have likely been very limited.
Experiment, Experiment, and Experiment
Any technology adoption framework would not be complete without a formal process for piloting new ideas. Running program pilots or proof of concepts minimizes initial investment and risks when exploring new technology. In order for a pilot to be successful, it must include a thorough plan through which it can be transformed into a full program. This should include specific goals, anticipated duration, testing parameters and expected outcomes, as well as a plan for onboarding and transition should the pilot prove successful.
A typical pilot may include a limited range of users or business cases. For consumer-facing initiatives, it can also be done with focus groups and smaller product prototypes. The main idea behind a pilot is to demonstrate how a new process can improve an existing way of doing things on a smaller scale without disrupting existing operations, and before scaling it to the full organization. Focusing on technology alone can potentially bias the outcome and miss an important aspect of the overall initiative. Therefore, it is advisable to create a holistic framework for piloting new ideas, such as EdTech Pilot Framework, which can be used to test out EdTech products.
Holistic Design Approach
A holistic approach to the problem design and needs assessment can help organizations determine if the chosen solution would make a great fit. This approach incorporates assessments of multiple aspects of operations, such as resource strategy, bottom and top-line expectations, business model impact, as well as external factors like sustainability and social impact. When assessing new technology for a fit, it is important to consider all of these factors before making the final decision. To provide a more practical example, while a new CRM platform may help automate a number of manual processes, it may also come with a steep learning curve and incremental cost, which at the end of the day may not produce the expected increase in value.
When thinking about new product design or an improvement for an existing process, there are two approaches on the opposite sides of the design thought spectrum. Product driven or focused method can be truly innovative and groundbreaking, however, only a few succeed, with a vast majority of new product ideas, which are not based on expressed customer needs, end up failing. On the other side, customer driven design focuses on the needs and often results in products which satisfy a known market demand. Design Thinking methodology emphasizes this approach and sets a ground framework for properly evaluating new ideas and technologies. A Design Sprint can also be an effective tool in the discovery phase during new technology adoption process.
Filter the Buzz
While new and emerging technology provides a lot of promises, it can also be daunting to find the right tool or vendor, especially in the booming industry where everyone is claiming to have unlimited capabilities designed to dramatically transform your business. Some recent technology advancements have spawned a large number of disrupting technologies, which includes blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. Media and news can quickly pick up a new product and build a lot of hype around it. The only proven method for selecting the right technology is done through understanding of the current business need and by following an established adoption process.
In one business case example, not so long ago, companies were scrambling to build data centers so that they could retain and store all the data which was being captured by many systems employed in their business operations. Data mining, or extracting useful information was difficult, costly and time consuming, until recently. With the advent of machine learning and AI, and tools like DataIku, business intelligence can now easily be derived from these enormous pools of data. This demonstrates how new technology can provide a welcome improvement to an existing problem.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is another example of a new technology, which leads business transformation allowing processes, previously done manually, to be converted into automated ones. Blue Prism is one such platform which provides automation technology to augment or improve existing processes in a number of industries. With proven business case successes in areas like data entry, IT functions, and telecommunications, RPA demonstrates how properly applied technology adoption process can help companies grow and improve.
Specialty consulting firms like ABME Corp, can help organizations stay on top of new technology selection. Their services include business case building and validation, vendor analysis, as well as product evolution strategy and roadmap development.