Trendspotting: Managing The Human Factors That Affect Technology ROI - InformationWeek
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Trendspotting: Managing The Human Factors That Affect Technology ROI

Consider -- and accommodate -- worker attitudes in implementing a new technology push to make it successful, Rebecca Wettemann says.

Most IT professionals realize the basic tenet of new technology: if the users won't use the application, the return on investment will likely be negative. But that doesn't mean human factors have to derail a project. Identifying barriers to adoption and planning strategies to address them as part of your deployment can make adoption as painless as possible -– and give you key milestones to ensure your project delivers value.

Nucleus Research has identified four basic categories of human barriers to technology adoption. By placing potential roadblocks into these categories, organizations can recognize them based on their root cause and use specific techniques to limit their negative impact on a project's value. The four types of adoption barriers are individual, structural, hierarchical, and cultural.

Anyone who's tried to implement a knowledge-management or sales-force-automation solution has likely encountered individual barriers. Traditional business cultures believe they reward individuals for knowledge; however, they often do so by recognizing one employee's success against his or her peers. This enforces the belief that knowledge is power, and that sharing knowledge diminishes individual power.

Before undertaking any new technology initiative, you should take a hard look at the culture toward individuals. It's likely that individuals will feel threatened by any project that pushes them to share information, making it critical to "sell" the application based on the benefits to the individual users, not the company.

Some successful strategies include:

  • Make it easier for users. Many companies that were not able to successfully adopt a complex sales force automation solution found salespeople were more willing to use an on-demand solution such as because it was intuitive – and because users could use personal reporting features to be more effective.
  • Plan a "carrot strategy" for power users. One company deploying an ERP solution identified key users in each user group that were brought in on the ground floor and given incentives to give their input on a project. Because they were able to identify ways to use the system that made their own jobs easier, they became evangelists for the group and the rest of their team wanted to adopt so they could keep up with the champion.
  • Make management "blind" to slow adopters. Rather than putting technology use as a performance-evaluation item, you can drive adoption by having key management let it be known that any work not reflected in the application "doesn't count." For example, one company's CEO pushing a drive from E-mail to use of the intranet sent a clear message when he announced he wouldn't be reading E-mails for the first month -- all information had to come to him via individual department's intranet pages. Another company with a challenged sales-force-automation deployment changed its incentive structure so that only 50% of commission was paid on sales that hadn't been reflected in the pipeline report for more than 30 days, making the assumption that if sales hadn't reported on it, it wasn't a deal they had worked to close.
  • Make it fun. Who says adoption efforts have to always be serious? One very successful HR deployment used outbound marketing, prizes for random users, and treasure hunts to drive users to use the system. Another company deploying Palm Pilots to non-technical users first rolled out the devices with a hangman competition, requiring users to learn the scripting needed to quickly take notes before rolling out the work-tracking application. A small budget item for fun incentives can go a long way to overcoming human barriers.
  • Structural
    Groups within companies don't always share information freely -- and technology alone won't change that. You shouldn't expect that giving sales and marketing a place to collaborate will make them play nicely together. The ideal strategy for overcoming structural barriers is to avoid them from the outset. For example, one company deploying an ERP system made its project team include key sales and marketing people -- and sales had to walk through how marketing would use the system and marketing had to evaluate sales's role in entering data. Cooperative troubleshooting before the application ever went live drove greater collaboration and recognition that one group's quick fix for entering data would slow another group's performance -- and eventually affect those that took shortcuts.

    Focusing on quick areas where multiple groups will see clear benefits is helpful as well. For example, one company deploying the SAVO Group's Sales Asset Manager solution focused on a few key product areas where sales was frustrated by lack of support from marketing -- and marketing was exasperated because sales wasn't using the resources it had provided. Devoting effort to making one product set complete -- and driving the feedback to marketing so it could see exactly why sales wasn't using the materials -- enabled the company to promote the benefits of collaboration across the broader product portfolio.

    Managers like doors. Even "open door" policies have limits, and the threat to management is that the electronic world of collaboration has no doors. Blogs are a great example of how even lower-level employees can generate positive or negative discussion on a company -- and good electronic-communication skills are the best way for managers to coach rather than control.

    Tone and context are key factors to consider in an electronic communication environment. Tone is often absent from written communication, and a short answer can often be interpreted in many ways. Managers that learn how to add context and tone to their messages -- even if it means a quick walk down the hall, or using emoticons effectively -- can build electronic collaboration and reduce hierarchical barriers while encouraging greater individual productivity.

    People of different cultures communicate and collaborate in different ways. When cross-cultural groups are needed, it's important to foster relationships outside the electronic world. One successful company eliminated potential confusion in using written communication by mandating that the phone was the first medium for one-on-one collaboration, while E-mail was the second.

    Another company dealing with cultural issues focused first on common groups that had similar backgrounds and objectives, rolling out an on-line E-commerce application first to countries that had already done significant E-commerce development themselves and at a slower pace to those that had less proficiency with the technology.

    Culture can be an important consideration in selecting a technology and an implementation partner as well. Some companies have found a particular vendor's philosophy and implementation style was more suited to some regional divisions of their companies than others. In some cases, if regional business practices are dramatically different, selecting regional systems that can share an integrated data structure may be a better choice than standardizing globally on one application.

    Even the best technology will have limited value if you don't address barriers to adoption before, during, and after the deployment process. Identifying key barriers and their types and planning strategies to limit each one's impact on your technology project will keep your project on track to maximum ROI.

    Rebecca Wettemann is VP of research at Nucleus Research, a global tech consulting and advisory firm. Its analysts blend financial analysis and case-based investigations with technology expertise to deliver return-on-investment data. She can be reached at

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