Why is adopting new technology so challenging for organizations?


At Cerebyte, we have begun working with several companies to support them as they work to get large groups of people to adopt new technology. We’ve also been in pre-sales with several companies around the same situation. The technologies being adopted are diverse including a SalesForce.com program, human resource systems, production management systems, and supply chain management systems.

In all of these situations, the companies’ leadership teams purchased these technologies for significant amounts of money only to encounter lots of resistance. In several cases, actual use of these technologies has lagged.

These companies are talking with our team about how to figure out how to get people to actually use these technologies. During these discussions, we have encountered some consistent issues that are worth discussing.

I think there are four underlying reasons that executives purchase these systems, often for very big money, and then they fall flat.

First, big systems are often bought as a means of controlling work, but they really are about controlling workers, and the workers know this. They are almost always more about command and control than an actual improvement in performance, which alienates the people who have to do the work.

Second, they are sold on the basis of large feature sets – “Look at all of the things this system can do!” Everyone accepts these promises and waits for the magic to happen. But, what this means is almost always a big increase in administration that the workers need to do with little benefit, so more work but less value. Resistance is hardly surprising.

Third, these technologies are sold with the promise of productivity gain, which is always vastly over-stated, but implicitly about reducing staff. Everyone gets the idea that, if this technology actually works, their jobs are at risk.

Fourth, the technology vendors all claim to know how to get people to use their technology, without knowing anything about human learning and the neuroscience of change. Usually technology adoption is a training class on the application. For the purchasers, this looks like a plausible, convenient approach (the services are typically all bundled into the deal). Leadership thinks: “Our technology vendor has done this many times, we only need to follow what they say to do.” The problem is that they know their technology but really don’t have much of a track record of effective implementations, so, their training classes are not very useful for true adoption.

The net of all of this is that most new technologies are widely resisted. However, there are always a few people who find ways to use the new technologies well and to overcome all of these issues.

What Cerebyte does is discover the attitudes and skills of those who have adopted the technology and proliferate it out to everyone else. From a Cerebyte change perspective, this is a very straight forward and effective process.

But, we have run into resistance for using Cerebyte to assist technology adoption.

The first source of resistance to bringing the Cerebyte team in is that the leadership team is hesitant to admit the reason they are talking with us.

As the key people in both the production systems and the SalesForce.com situations said: “We spent more than $25M to purchase this system and now we have to go back to our leadership and tell them we have to spend $XM more to get people to actually use it. We look like fools.”

The leadership teams that bought these systems are embarrassed to acknowledge that the systems aren’t being used. Then, things have to get really bad before they will acknowledge this and pay more to fix their problem.

The second issue is because the sellers always over-promise what the system can actually do and how easy it is to use, leadership becomes passive waiting for the magic to happen. We joke with them about “the myth of IT magic” – not really much of a joke.

The third issue is because of the above, the exemplar users almost always subvert the command and control aspects of the technology as part of making the technology effective. Finding value in other aspects of the system and simply not doing the administration the system requires subverts the core purpose of the system – at least as defined by the primary buyers. As one VP put it, “they (referring to the exemplars) couldn’t possibly be doing that”… Ah, yes, they are. As a result, the system is actually used, but not in the way that the leaders intended so the leaders get frustrated that their purchase has gone awry.

A fourth issue is that this type of adoption takes time and effort…it is never as easy as the vendors would like you to believe so everyone is frustrated.

What happens next is that the leadership teams either give up on the system, though none of them acknowledge that they actually did a bad job of leading or, finally, they use our more contemporary, scientific approach to change and technology adoption.

As I indicated earlier, there is a lot known about how to do this type of technology adoption, but it begins with understanding how people see change in general and technology adoption in particular. This is not a particularly hard process but the leadership team needs to recognize that technology adoption is different from simply buying the technology and that they need these supplemental capabilities, that technology vendors do not actually know how to get people to use their systems and that it takes time and effort.

However, if you have invested millions in the technology, it is a small additional price to pay to have it be used by your employees.

Do you have any new technology coming into your organization? What are you doing to ensure that is it actually used?

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