As a technology company our customers expect us to be forward looking with regards to the latest and greatest technology. As technologists, we tend to enjoy having this expectation and in fact it is why many of us gravitated towards technology as it is always changing and challenging. We pride ourselves in learning new things and how those new things could potentially benefit our customers business Some of the latest technology trends being discussed are Block Chaining, Machine Learning, Containers and Server-less Computing, to name a few.
However, as I will explain, the low hanging fruit to be harvested from IT is found from much
smaller enhancements or readily available software that streamline communication. The incremental improvements from these enhancements add big value and require a focus on tech adoption strategies rather than cutting edge technology. To my point, I would content that a disciplined focus on getting widespread adoption of a modern communication platform like Microsoft Teams or Slack provides far more value to the average business than getting say, Machine Learning module implemented in their ERP.
The challenge, as a service provider, with the cutting-edge knowledge expectation from our customers is it can give us a skewed sense of where we can maximize value to our customers. At the very least it creates focus on new technology and neglects the same focus on the most important yet hardest part of IT, technology adoption.
A prime example of where this skewed sense of value creeps into corporate decision making is seen when looking at the org charts and responsibilities for mid-size IT service providers (I define mid size service provider as having 40-100 employees). Almost everyone of these firms has someone with the emerging technology role/responsibility, most have some basic discipline around introducing new technology to their line card and all of them have a process for educating their employees on how to administrate the technology.
A key distinction here is administrating technology is not the same thing as driving customers to fully leverage (adopt) the technology. Getting an organization to adopt a given
technology is much more complex as it requires understanding the customer at a deeper level(a concept we call customer business context) and tends to be fairly abstract in defining/measuring success criteria. It also requires evolving execution plans based on information learned along the way rather than a direct path known from the start.
In contrast, how many of those same IT service companies that have someone with emerging technology role also have someone with the technology adoption role/responsibility? Unfortunately, for most IT Service companies this role tends to be decentralized in the organization(read undefined/ad hoc), lack consistent best practices and not be part of regular executive conversation(the saw that doesn’t get sharped stays dull).In fact IT service providers(and customers themselves) tend to run away from adoption and sway the conversation to providing training leaving the adoption puzzle to be figured out by the customer themselves.
To be clear training is a component of an adoption strategy but only a piece of it.
Boiling adoption to training oversimplifies the problem and even itself has many
shades of gray, i.e is the training to show you what is possible with the tech or how
to do you a specific task or even how the company wants you to use to software.
Some examples of technologies that are readily available in the Microsoft Office 365
ecosystem(as well as other 3rd parties that Microsoft copied) are:
- Teams – for enhance collaboration and communication with your staff
- Planner – for quickly and visually organizing tasks within teams
- Power BI – for creating KPI and metrics
These technologies are based around streamlining communication and creating efficiencies. These are the same types of efficiencies that business’s’ gained when they first got email in the late 90s or moved to shared calendaring in the early 2000s. It follows that wide spread adoption of the modern communication programs, can have the same level of efficiency impact as those other technologies did. Yet what we don’t see is a level of effort to adopt them that is equal to the reward, nor do we see the level of conversation around adoption strategies. Why is that?
- Cutting Edge Equals Disruptive Potential – Most business are more scared of being made irrelevant by some new technology that disrupts their business model than missing out on incremental improvements. No one wants to be the next Blockbuster Video. Therefore they are willing to invest, experiment and buy new products to help protect them against being the slowest gazelle.
- Cutting Edge Equals Disruptive Potential – Many thought leaders and entrepreneurs are intrigued by the opportunity that these Cutting-Edge technologies could provide. Their passion helps ensure that the technologies are discussed at a disproportionate rate to less sexy technologies and their enthusiasm for the next disruptive thing can be contagious or exciting.
- Adoption Strategies Have The Human Factor – Humans make planning for adoption extremely hard since they are unpredictable especially when it comes to changing their behavior. As a service provide you can’t scope what you can’t control and the range of hours(cost) is extremely hard to control.
- Adoption Strategies Require a Chip Away Approach – You might need to make mention at every staff meeting or remind people via internal newsletters or you may need to embarrass a few people when they revert to old habits. This also means you might have to take an opportunist approach in that you are looking for opportunities to re-enforce the use of the new system. Many, non executives aren’t given the freedom in their company for this type of approach and/or don’t have the vocabulary to ask for what they actually need. However these same people are often times tasked with new tech roll-out which is seen as administrative in nature rather than executive. The executive making a declaration that the company shall now use Microsoft Teams (or technology X) and then walking away is the cliché example of a doomed from the beginning strategy.
- Adoption Strategies for Communication Technology don’t shut of the old way– The work around for not using Teams/Slack is to email…and it works. This is distinctly different than Adoption of an Accounting system in which data has to be entered a certain way, the later of which forces adoption. This is an interesting side effect about enhancements and optimizing is that if a given task isn’t done then with the new tech then it is simply wasted time rather than the wrong result, this fact makes the governance over the system much harder.
- Adoption Strategies Require Governance and Governance is Hard – When should a way of doing this be required vs recommended vs optional? How much flexibility should people have to us the technology as they desire? Who decides these things and when they are decided how is it disseminated and monitored? Take for example the use of an email system, most companies have a required signature some don’t…most companies let the individual determine the filing system structure.
- Adoption Strategies Require Understanding how people work – This is really hard and knowing when someone’s habits can/should change vs when they need to stay the same vs when that person is a VIP about to retire in 2 years can be challenging.
My point in all of this? Remember, not every business has massive disruption about
to eat their lunch in the next 2 years. Accordingly, looking for incremental improvements in communication software can be more effective at increasing productivity than looking at radially transforming technology. In effect the simple concepts that are challenging to do well will typically provide more thrust to the business than you expect and we would be willing to guess that most likely you are not putting the effort relative to the potential payoff with these technologies.
If you are looking for ways to leverage some of these modern communication tools meet the challenge head on you need to be clear that adoption will be your hurdle and have a strategy for it and be ready to evolve that strategy as you learn. Do you have the right people at the table discussing adoption strategies? Does your IT Partner know enough about your business to be helpful with these conversations?
When we merged with TekTegrity, we put two 50 employee companies together
added 2 new geographic offices. 1 company used email exclusively for internal
communication and the other used slack almost exclusively for internal communication. Moving everybody to 1 communication style(system) for internal communication was one of my top priorities over the first 3 months of the integration. This involved talking a few people of ledges as we requested they change and many communication frustrations when slacks or emails weren’t responded to appropriately by the “other company.” In reality it took 3 months to get 50% of the people on board with slack and another 6 months to get the rest along with lots of adjustments in our strategy along the way. Now, 1.5 years later,
our organization couldn’t function without it.