We Can’t Ignore or Fear Technology for Long

When it comes to new technology, first comes ignorance, then comes fear, then comes the embrace and rush to the IT department to make it happen—now! This scenario plays out again and again in organizations.

THREE KEY PHASES TO TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION

  • Ignorance: People are unaware, misinformed, or just don’t understand the potential that a new technology holds. In some cases, it’s because they generally haven’t been exposed to the technology; in other cases, it is because they are going forward with eyes wide-shut (what they don’t know can’t harm them or so they think).
  • Fear—OMG: A new technology; I can’t deal with this. “I’m used to doing it X way.” “Why do we have to change?” “I can’t learn this new technology.” There is fear of something new, of change, of the unknown.
  • Embrace: The acknowledgment that a new technology is important to the organization; that it can’t be ignored; that it isn’t going away; that the competitors are already getting onboard. Oh uh. Get the CIO in here. We need this technology, now! Where are we going to find funding for it this year (or quarter, whatever)? We need to reprioritize our IT projects, so this is at the top (or near it). Let’s get everyone right on this. Can we meet early this week?

I read an interesting article in Public CIO magazine (January 2010) called “A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep,” which discussed how social media is becoming perva-sive in government.

The article stated that “Last year, a Public CIO reader survey found that social media didn’t make the list of the top 10 technology priorities for 2009. Today, it’s become the number one topic among public CIOs.”

In between not making the top 10 technology list and becoming number one, social media was vilified as being something that would make the organization lose control of its message, that it was a security risk, and that it was a colossal waste of employees’ time and should be banned (or blocked and it was by 40 percent of organizations).

As the pace of technology innovation increases, the life cycle of adoption has also rapidly advanced. For example, with social media, we went from ignorance to fear to the embrace in one year flat!

Chris Curran, chief technology officer for Diamond Management and Technology Consultants Inc., is quoted in the article: “If you rewind to 1995, the attitude back then was, ‘No Internet use at work.’ Then it became, ‘No Internet shopping during work hours.’ But over time, the issue just went away, because a majority of employees are good people, hardworking and productive. Some people are going to do stupid things whether they have access to social networking or not. But it doesn’t make sense to ignore a social trend that is bigger than your organization.”

You can’t ignore important new technologies or let fear get the better of you. At one time, people were saying, “Oh no, we can’t change from paper communica-tions to e-mail. We need everything hard copy.” And that changed. Now e-mail is the norm or should I say was the norm, because social computing for the younger generation is becoming the new e-mail.

What is the answer for IT leaders who want to advance organizational adoption of valuable new technologies?

  • Create awareness and understanding of new technologies—the benefits and the risks (and how they will be mitigated).
  • Establish sound planning and IT governance processes for capturing business requirements and aligning new technologies to best meet these.
  • Provide new technologies coupled with ample communications and training to ensure that the technologies are not just more shelfware, but that they are readily adopted and fulfill their potential in the organization to advance the mission and productivity.

The phases of technology adoption: ignorance, fear, and embrace are not abnormal or bad—they are human. And as people, we must have time to recognize and adjust to change. You can’t force technology down people’s throats (proverbially speaking), and you can’t command organizational readiness and, poof, there it is. But rather, as IT leaders, we need to be sensitive to where people and organizations are at on the adoption life cycle and help to identify those emerging technologies with genuine net benefits that can’t be ignored or feared—they must be embraced and the sooner the better for the organization, its people, and all its stakeholders.


by Andy Blumenthal, a visionary technology and business thought leader and the founder of User-centric Enterprise Architecture. Currently, Blumenthal is chief technology officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). A regular speaker and published author, Blumenthal blogs at http://usercentricea.blogspot.com and http://totalcio.blogspot.com.

Blumenthal’s views are his own and do not represent those of any agency.