The technology adoption lifecycle is a usable model to gain understanding into the adoption process of a new technology or product within a certain population or culture, such as an organization. What it doesn’t tell us, however, is what value it creates as a result of technology adoption. To understand that, we need to look at how the use of a new technology or product affects the ability to perform tasks and achieve goals. Let's look at this specifically in the context of enterprise collaboration.
The key question is not if people have adopted a certain technology, but rather how they are using it and how new and improved practices are being adopted. For an organization that seeks to improve its operations and management, the adoption of a certain technology isn’t really interesting unless it creates value.
The potential value of a new technology lies in the new and improved behaviors and practices that might emerge when the technology is introduced to, and adopted by, staff. It’s when people change the way they behave -- for the better -- and find better ways do their work. That is when operational performance can be improved, when the organization’s ability to innovate can increase, when people can collaborate more efficiently and effectively, when decision making can improve and so forth.
It might seem like I’m stating the obvious, but the fact is, I haven’t seen many organizations that have put nearly as much effort into understanding and changing practices as they have put into discussing product features when introducing new collaboration products. If it's obvious that the value of introducing new collaboration technologies comes from new and improved practices, then the challenges associated with changing existing behaviors and practices are apparently not obvious enough, because organizations spend so little focus and effort on addressing those challenges.
Creating Value with New Collaboration Technology
As the simplistic model below shows, an organization could aim to improve existing practices by introducing new technologies and use them to develop new practices, but also by developing new practices with the use of existing technologies.
It is important to realize that you can improve existing practices without introducing new technologies. For example, a lot could be done in most organizations to improve how people use email as a communication tool -- occupational spam and the sense of information overload some people feel when using email can be decreased if people would become more careful about when and whom they email. The solution to occupational spam lies as much in changing our behaviors as it does in introducing new and better tools or technologies. Yet, we put our hopes in new technologies that will bring us salvation and free us from the evils caused by email.
You can, of course, also introduce new and improved practices by introducing new technologies. For example, by introducing social software such as a micro-blogging platform, employees gain access to an easy way to share information without knowing in advance who could have a need for it and, if used correctly, without creating the same amount of occupational spam as when using email. Eventually, it may lead to a changed behavior where employees share information immediately, instead of waiting for someone to come and ask them for it -- a new practice has emerged.
You can also introduce a new technology without seeing any change in behaviors or practices. When introducing a micro-blogging platform, employees might continue to share information only when being asked to. They just do it on a micro-blogging platform instead of via email.
They can also continue to work in silos by creating closed groups to which they only invite and accept invitation requests from people they already know and work with. Some of the benefits of micro-blogging, such as avoiding inbox lock-in of information and avoiding information duplication, would continue, but then people would miss out on the (real) value that comes from increased sharing and transparency -- improved findability of information and people and improved collaboration through increased workspace awareness.
When it comes to social software, you really won’t get much value from introducing a blog, wiki or micro-blogging platform unless you first change existing behaviors and practices. Otherwise, you will just be paving cow paths.
Editor's Note: Check out these additional articles on Enterprise Collaboration: