Why is New Technology Not Adopted?

Adoption of new ways of working is a key interest in my work—it’s a topic on which I wrote the book and run workshops with clients around the world. (Actually, if you’re as interested in this topic as I am, I’ll be in London next Monday running a public seminar on strategies for user adoption).

Anyway, part of the approach for being successful with user adoption of new ways of working – usually powered by new technology – is figuring out why earlier attempts have been unsuccessful. On this front there’s a smorgasbord of possibilities, and it’s useful to talk through the menu to uncover which ones are at play in a particular team, group, or the wider organization. Space here doesn’t permit an exhaustive analysis, but here’s five key roadblocks to adoption:

1. The Technology Doesn’t Make Sense for the Work. An IT department goes all gaga over the idea of using wikis for creating documents, and says that it should be used for new sales proposals. But they overlook the need to send the document outside the organization for approval by the client, and the technology that’s chosen doesn’t print the sales proposals to the previous beautiful standard. The sales team rejects the wiki.

2. The Technology Takes Too Long to Learn. The new technology is rich in possibilities, and can “do anything.” That’s a positive spin on the reality that it’s complex and requires careful learning to make it work. The learning curve is too high for the people involved, and they reject it. This would especially be the case where the learning requirements are high for an activity that is carried out only infrequently—say once a month. Perhaps it’s a new online way of filling out your expenses claim that gives perfection down the line for the people who see the expense claims day-in and day-out, but for those making an expense claim only once a month, the old Excel spreadsheet is still the preferred approach.

3. No One Explains the Possibilities. People who have been doing work a particular way for a long time (months/years) have deeply ingrained patterns for how they approach their work. When new technology is introduced, although it offers numerous ways of re-thinking the way work is done, no one takes the time to do so, and so the team merely adopts the new technology but treats it the same as the old. This is a frequent crime in the SharePoint world; for all the wonderful things that SharePoint can do, it becomes merely the “new file server.”

4. Equally Valid Alternatives. When a new way of working is introduced alongside the old way, and both approaches are treated as equally valid ways of getting work done, most people will take the path of least resistance and go with the approach they’re familiar with. “You can do it the old way,” goes the pronouncement, “or try out the new 2.0 approach.” While there should be a period of overlap to ensure the new approach doesn’t break the business process, at some point the old way has to be shut off.

5. A Whole Raft of Technology Issues. There’s a whole raft of related technology issues and concerns that can derail the adoption of new technology—such as which specific devices are supported, which office productivity suites work best, and whether there is offline support. I was speaking recently with a firm using IBM Connections, who is trying to get staff to use Communities for communication / collaboration instead of email. But many employees travel frequently and have BlackBerries. While on the plane, they can catch up on email in Lotus Notes (due to full offline support) and send it all when they have a network connection after the flight has finished. You can’t do that with Connections yet. In the back of a taxi, they can send and receive messages on their BlackBerries. IBM Connections has some support for BlackBerry devices, but it’s not great. And as a result, older approaches are more integrated into the workflow and lifeflow of staff, decreasing the possibilities for adopting Connections.

In your work, which of the above factors have decreased the adoption of new technology? Have you stumbled on other factors too?

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