It is equally important to understand the infrastructure that facilitates the adoption of technology as it is to understand the process companies go through to select, implement and use technology (Technology Adoption Process). In business, infrastructure is the relationship between all of the entities and functions that are interconnected and dependent upon each other to produce a certain outcome. When technologists think of infrastructure, they usually think in terms of the technological components that must be in place to make the system work. This is only one aspect of infrastructure. We call this Technology Infrastructure. There are three other components, each playing a crucial role in the adoption of technology. Technology is important, but there are other infrastructures that are just as vital. When companies do not distinguish these other parts of the infrastructure, they can overlook important attributes of their customers, their partners and the internal corporate structure required to support the technology adoption process. The three additional components of infrastructure are:

  • Market infrastructure
  • External delivery infrastructure
  • Internal corporate infrastructure

Following is a brief description of each infrastructure and its role in the adoption of technology:

Market Infrastructure

Market infrastructure includes all of the organizations, jobs and individuals that support that market's business functions and its flow of funds. It encompasses the publications, conferences and services that support that market. These entities are interconnected and dependent on one another. The relationships and flow of funds are clearly established and easy to identify. Some technology vendors view their market in terms of their product, such as the "data warehousing market" or the "tools market." With this view, the market appears fragmented or disconnected; and potential customers become hard to identify.

In reality, we do not define the market. The market defines itself. The "data warehousing market" is made up of vendors that sell data warehousing products and services, not the customers who buy and use them. The customers are part of existing, predefined groups within industries such as CPG or telco, and they work in job functions, such as human resources or finance.

When technology vendors think in terms of developing products and solutions for the data warehousing market, their customers are left to define and develop the required solutions. By accurately identifying the market (as opposed to the technology being purchased), a vendor can become a partner in defining and developing the solutions required and, as a result, sell more.

Function TAP
Establish the users' business objectives and functionality requirements Step 1
Evaluate and select the system Step 2
Justify the acquisition Step 3
Customize the application so that it meets the company and users' needs Step 5
Convert the data and integrate the new system Step 6
Set up, promote and fill educational programs that motivate users to use the technology Step 7
Help customers understand how the new systems fit within the business and what it will mean to them Step 8
Train customers to use the new technology Step 9
Provide support and maintain Step 10
Figure 1: Infrastructure Partners Support Technology Adoption in Stages.

External Delivery Infrastructure

External delivery infrastructure includes the relationships external to your company but required to facilitate the customers' adoption of technology. These relationships involve all of the partners that assist a company with its selection, implementation and use of technology. These "infrastructure partners" include system integrators, consultants, third-party developers, VARS and associations which help facilitate the Technology Adoption Process (TAP).

Figure 1 highlights the services these external infrastructure partners can provide to support technology adoption at various stages of the process.

Some vendors make the mistake of assuming that the company's IT and training staff have the resources to provide these services in house. Adoption of new technology increases and the total cost of ownership can decrease when these infrastructure partners are in place to support the Technology Adoption Process.

Internal Corporate Infrastructure

Internal corporate infrastructure is the process that facilitates the communication and information sharing required inter- and intra-departmentally as well as with the customer. This underlying structure must be in place, from product concept and design to product use and support. Customer support, R&D, sales, marketing and production all need information from each other on a timely basis. Problems can arise when the structure is not in place to support this communication and information flow. For example, National Semiconductor has reported millions of dollars in spoilage caused by poor information sharing.

Many of the most successful companies recognize the importance of customer satisfaction and the underlying structure to achieve this. Customer relationship management (CRM), which typically integrates sales force, marketing and customer service applications, has carved out a new niche based on this premise.

Cross-functional teams have been the most common way for companies to foster intra-departmental communications. Improved communications between customer support and the company is another. For example, Hewlett-Packard's "Lou Pratt Line" collects and forwards customer complaints and problems directly to product development. The policy in the Black & Decker customer service department is to notify the quality control and marketing departments when a product problem is reported the third time.

Addressing the entire infrastructure to facilitate TAP is required for long-term sustenance and growth by vendors and successful implementation by IT. But, whose responsibility is it to build this infrastructure ­ IT's, the vendor's, the user's? We will answer these questions in our next column.

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