My previous two columns examined the industry-wide focus on technology at the expense of user needs and its effect on the long-term adoption of technology and product sales. Now it's time to explain what is involved in a successful customer adoption process. Whether defined or more informal, companies go through a specific process to implement new systems. Product selection and implementation are basic to this process. But, there is a third aspect that is too frequently overlooked: the crucial steps required to get users to use the system. Charlene Hamiwka, an AS/400 business intelligence executive for IBM AS/400 North America, confirms this. She stated that, "IT is concerned with putting things together and keeping it running. Data warehousing vendors who focus on the features and functions of the technology instead of on the users' requirements compound the problem."

The Technology Adoption Process

Let's take a look at the 10-step Technology Adoption Process that includes selection and implementation, as well as the critical use phase necessary for successful product implementation:

System Selection

1. Needs assessment: identification of system specifications and business requirements.
2. System evaluation and selection.
3. Cost justification.

System Implementation

4. Purchase, configuration and installation.
5. Customization to meet specific business functionality required by users.
6. Data conversion, transfer and integration with existing system.

System Use

7. User education on benefits of the system ­ not in terms of technology, but about how it will make their jobs easier, etc.
8. User motivation to adopt the new system. Knowing the business value motivates users to adopt.
9. User training to learn the new system.
10. Ongoing support and maintenance for users, as needed.

IT can optimize the total cost of ownership (time and money) only when all of these steps are acknowledged. This is true for low-end products as well as those at the high end. Although the need to address the users' technology adoption requirements is significant with high-end products because of the high cost of ownership, Microsoft Corporation ­ with its low-margin products ­ addresses these steps through its partners.

System Selection System Implementation System Use
Assess Needs Buy, Install Educate
Evaluate & Select Customize Motivate
Justify Convert Train

Figure 1: Technology Adoption Process

Requirements for Project Success

Resistance to change is one of the greatest barriers hindering adoption of new technology and systems. To be successful, the 10-step Technology Adoption Process needs to be formally addressed. When users are left to do it themselves, they often return to their existing methods because they are familiar and comfortable with them. This happens even when their existing approach is cumbersome and ineffective.

The fact that companies need more structure to help their users use the new system is confirmed by Raymond J. Lane, president and COO of Oracle Corporation, in one of my favorite quotes. He said, "What the customers want hasn't changed in 60 years and it won't change in the next 60 years. Customers want service, for it is service that allows them to exploit the benefits of technology innovations."

Successful implementation of the technology involves users early in the process. Following are the user requirements for service, as mapped to the Technology Adoption Process:

  1. Involve users in the needs assessment. (Step 1)
  2. Involve users in customizing solution to meet their needs. One size does not fit all. (Discovered in Step 1. Implemented in Step 5.)
  3. Educate users about how the new system fits within the business and how it affects them. (Step 7. Can be implemented through training in Step 9.)
  4. Provide ample motivation to users to change their behavior. (Step 8. Can be implemented through training in Step 9.)
  5. Train users to learn how to use the product. (Step 9)
  6. Provide users with needed support and maintenance. (Step 10)

Mike McCaghren, senior vice president and CIO at JumboSports, a sporting goods retailer, was brought on to save the company's implementation of an AS/400-based retail application. He describes the project's initial failure and route to success. "They had gone through all of the steps to select the system. They had a system integrator conduct the needs assessment. Senior management and some line managers were included in the process. But, they didn't have the buy-in needed at the store level for their new system and employees were misusing it."
"To correct this problem," McCaghren further states, "we implemented an extensive training program for our district and store managers where we emphasized the importance of the new system to the business. We've since reduced inventory by $70 million and reduced labor expenses by $1 million per year. These results would not have happened without our attention to the users and training them."

By instituting procedures for user involvement, education and training, vendors and IT can overcome many of the problems that have caused data warehousing (and other IT) implementations to fail, including: user resistance, poorly defined objectives and difficult-to-use systems.

Addressing the users' requirements for service, as outlined in the Technology Adoption Process, provides a total solutions approach. Some vendors claim a total solutions approach to show that they are improving the quality of service they provide, but overlook the crucial steps that motivate and assist users to use the new system. Those companies that address all of the steps in the Technology Adoption Process are more likely to succeed.

April's column will discuss the infrastructure required to address the users' Technology Adoption Process.

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