Category Archives: User Adoption
Maximizing adoption requires understanding the motivations of different groups of users and tailoring your deployment messages and materials to address their perspectives. These groups are summarized in Table 1. Technology adoption guru Geoffrey Moore suggests that the best way to drive broad adoption is to begin with the group at the top of this table, and as you succeed in achieving adoption within each group, use that group to help engage the next group in the table.
Table 1 :
So, what are some of the ways we can use what we know about these groups to encourage them to adopt a new technology? And how do members of each group affect the other groups?
While the recommendations below apply to implementation of all new technologies, let’s use an enterprise search project to illustrate the points.
Do not confuse innovators with early adopters. Innovators will hear your message and adopt, but their attention will move on to other things quickly and they will tend to not spread the word.
However, seeing that innovators have adopted a new technology can encourage some early adopters to look at it. So, while not critical to overall adoption, innovators should not be ignored in the early roll out– send them links to search when you roll out search to your pilot group.
It is likely that you will be able to identify some of your innovators and early adopters from the description in blog post Part 6. Include the early adopters you know in a roll-out pilot group (more on the pilot later). On their own initiative, the early adopters you include in your pilot group will help spread the word and drive adoption by:
- Creating buzz,
- Encouraging staff to attend the roll-out presentations,
- Leveraging teachable moments (many people come to the early adopters for information – early adopters will use search and explain what they did)
Early adopters, without prompting, will be the ones carry on the repetition of the message once the full roll out is complete.
Early Majority & Crossing the Chasm
Early majority users require multiple references to tell them the technology is worth adopting, and they prefer those references to be from the other pragmatists in the early majority group; they are skeptical of technology enthusiasts.
While the early majority prefers references from their group, multiple references and demonstrations from the early adopters will encourage some of the early majority to try out the new technology. If they have great first experiences, these initial early majority converts will help spread adoption in the rest of their group.
It is advisable to augment this approach with Geoffrey Moore’s concept of bridging the gap between the early adopters and the early majority by establishing a niche group within the early majority. While Moore was suggesting targeting market segments, this concept could be extended to include groups within a company. Using this strategy to gain adoption of enterprise search might include:
- Find a small group of mostly early majority pragmatists. This could be a corporate department (other than IT or Marketing) or a specific business unit.
- Get buy in from the group’s manager – a confirmation that they will insist that all members of the group learn how to use and start using search on a regular basis.
- Use group training and personal attention to make this group highly successful users of search.
This group will then help create buzz and act as references to other early majority users. The goal is to use this group, like kindling, to start a small fire in the more skeptical early majority parts of your company. The more of these niche group fires you start, the faster adoption will take off.
Success with the early adopters, a well functioning search deployment, use of niche early majority groups, and good targeted messaging are the keys to adoption by users who have an early majority temperament.
Once innovators, early adopters, and the early majority have embraced search, you should be through about half of your company. A combination of carefully targeted messaging and the fear of being left behind will begin to bring in the late majority users.
All energy spent on the laggards group is wasted. They almost never change, and efforts to try and get them to change will be futile.
Most importantly, remember that while you might be interested in exploring all things new, that most of the people in your company are not; adoption of your new technology or approach may be doomed to low adoption if you do not keep this in mind and address the perspectives of these groups!
Maximizing technology adoption requires understanding the motivations of different groups of users and tailoring your deployment messages and materials to address their perspectives. So what are these different groups of users and are they really so different?
Understanding how people choose and adopt new technology is critical. This material is based on the Everett Rogers “diffusion of innovations theory” as adapted by Geoffrey Moore in “Crossing the Chasm.” Many people are familiar with this work as it is one of the basic models used in the marketing of software and hardware. What is different here is that I am proposing we can apply this understanding to improve the deployment of new technologies in our companies.
Briefly, Moore suggests that people can be broken up into five distinct groups; that each of these groups has very different motivations that determine if and when they will adopt a new technology, and that success in getting broad adoption requires separately addressing the interests and motivations of each group. The size and relationship of these groups is typically portrayed as segments of a traditional bell curve (see figure) The curve illustrates both the general order in which these groups adopt technology and their relative size and importance. This curve is shown with a gap between the early adopters and early majority groups. This gap, referred to as “The Chasm”, can take considerable effort and a very different approach to cross. And until this gap is crossed, you may only have achieved a 16% adoption rate.
Moore suggests that we should begin introducing new technology to those on the left end of the curve and then progress, group by group, toward the right end of the curve. He also suggests that we should focus on one group at a time, using each group as a base for selling the technology to the next group, and keeping this process moving smoothly from one group to the next. It is important to not pause and allow a loss in momentum.
The five categories of adopters include:
- Innovators – They pursue new technology aggressively without regard to how this technology might be applied. They are the first to buy/try new technology items and their primary motivation is to explore how the new technologies work.
- Early adopters – They also adopt new technology early on. However, their interest is in how the technology will solve specific problems and needs. They are people “. . . who find it easy to imagine, understand, and appreciate the benefits of a new technology, and to relate these benefits to their other concerns.” (Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, p. 12.) They also are looking at technology for “change agents”, something that could bring about major improvements in their company. Early adopters are critical to deploying new technology because they do not need to hear several other people tell them how great a new technology is to convince them to try that technology. Once they see it operate, they “. . . rely on their own intuition and vision” (Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, p. 12.)
- Early majority – As Moore explained, early majority users “. . . share some of the early adopter’s ability to relate to technology, but ultimately they are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They know that many of these newfangled inventions end up as passing fads, so they are content to wait and see how other people are making out before they [adopt a new technology]”. They are skeptical of major advances and prefer to go after incremental improvements. Most importantly, they need to hear multiple references tell them how effective the new technology is before they will try it. Because of the size of this group (probably about 1/3 of your company), the transition from early adopters to early majority is the critical transition.
- Late majority – Typically another 1/3 of the population, this group shares the point of view of the early majority. However, they tend to not be comfortable with technology and thus tend to wait until the new technology has become a standard before they adopt it.
- Laggards – The laggards are not interested in new technology.
As you can see from the descriptions of each of the groups, they approach technology from a very different perspective. Subsequent blog posts will discuss how one can use an understanding of these differences in crafting the adoption elements in your project management plan.
Many of us who develop and implement new technologies in our companies tend to be either innovators or early adopters by nature. Practical when exploring new technologies, the innovator and early adopter points of view can also blind us to what we need to do and say to engage the rest of our company and achieve broad adoption. One of the most serious mistakes we can make when selecting and deploying new technologies is to not stop and remind ourselves that everyone does not think like us!
Do these descriptions match people in your company and their approach to new technologies?
The “Intentional Approach” to Technology Adoption Part 4: Technology Should Address An Important Need and Be Tailored to the Business
The third impediment to technology adoption is that adoption is hindered when the new system does not address an important need or the initial implementation is not sufficiently tailored to the business to be compelling. While these impediments apply to implementation of all new technologies, let’s use an enterprise search project to illustrate the point.
Addressing an Important Need
While having an IS project that can solve many important needs is not sufficient to get user adoption, it is necessary. In order to justify the time to learn a new system and the energy to break old habits, the new system must be solving needs that the intended users consider very important. And the value must exceed the learning time and the time involved in using the new system.
As mentioned in previous blog posts, enterprise search 2.0 (ES2.0) has a great advantage over most IS projects, in that a well implemented ES2.0 project delivers answers to user questions, without requiring them to do work or to change how they work. This results in a dramatic change in the value/work ratio users experience and sets the project up for a likely successful deployment.
Tailoring a Compelling Initial Implementation
As the saying goes “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” In order for people to change their practices and adopt a new information system they need to have several very compelling initial experiences with that system. If we consider an enterprise search implementation, this means that people need to find what they are looking for in their initial attempts with search. This kind of success may not be possible if the initial search implementation has been scaled back, and the information they are looking for has not been indexed by the search engine.
While it is often tempting, for budget, schedule or cost reasons, to roll out an initial enterprise search deployment with only part of the project completed or some of the sources included, it is best to wait until the initial roll out will be impressive. Start with a broad and compelling implementation of search; that is, cover all sources and all locations, and consider injecting database information into the index to create more uses and more value.
Many may think that all you have to do is to explain to your users that the initial implementation is limited and tell them which sources are included. However, users tend not to remember the details of what we say, nor do they often know where the information they are looking for is stored. And if users do not find the information they are looking for in their first few searches, they may conclude that search is ineffective and give up on it. Then if you later add more sources to search, you may have a very tough time getting users to give search a second look. Gradualism, in this kind of project, can be fatal.
Have you experienced information system deployments that underperformed because they did not address an important need or because the initial implementation was not sufficiently tailored to the business?
In my last blog post, I mentioned that by analyzing our past projects, we can improve adoption of our future information systems projects. This post will focus on the second impediment identified in this type of review: that adoption is hindered when we do not understand how to drive adoption.
After putting months of work into developing and debugging a new information system, we tend to put little thought and effort into the deployment and promotion of the system we have created. Our months of experience with the system may have convinced us that it is so easy to learn and such a great system that users will flock to it naturally, or our attention is now focused on possible integration issues. Or, perhaps we don’t know what steps to take. Whatever the reason, our mind is not focused on what it will take to drive full adoption, and we are at risk of having to settle for low initial adoption and a slow subsequent rate of adoption growth.
Elements to an “Intentional Approach” To Drive Adoption
Some of the basic elements of an intentional approach are listed in Figure 1. Let’s concentrate on the most important element – having a plan. If you want to do more than “deploy a new information system”, and ensure this system is adopted by all who should use it, put adoption into your project management plan! This plan should:
- Describe what “success” in adoption would look like,
- Include specific and measurable adoption goals,
- Outline specific steps to achieve adoption,
- Schedule the adoption work well before deployment (don’t let it take a back seat),
- Include monitoring of the new system,
- Use the learning that comes from the monitoring to adjust the plan, and
- Continue the monitoring of adoption and the messaging until your adoption goals have been reached.
These steps may sound obvious. However, the reality is that many IS projects do not include adoption in the project planning.
In the simplest plan for rolling out a new system, we often send email announcements and perhaps offer optional lunchtime presentations. However, my experience suggests that this kind of messaging does not get the early adoption we hoped for. Common problems with messaging are key impediments to successful adoption and include:
- Roll-out distractions cause us to send out the announcement as a last minute afterthought,
- Less than 40% of our staff open “All Staff” email,
- The message is heard, but then quickly forgotten as the staff “gets back to work” (If we don’t get people to try out a new IS shortly after the email or presentation, they are likely to forget that it exists.),
- We fail to make the new IS sufficiently visible,
- We fail to leverage early users to help spread the message,
- The messages are not sufficiently tailored to the language and perspective of the users,
- The messages are not sufficiently “colorful” and engaging to draw attention from within the vast quantity of other information bombarding your users every day,
- We fail to take into account how different groups of people react to change, and
- We send one message – there is little or no follow-up after the initial launch.
With so many impediments to successful adoption, it perhaps should be no surprise that typical adoption rates for new information systems are in the 15 – 40% range. Getting past these challenges and achieving full adoption requires a more intentional approach, an approach that begins with the inclusion of adoption goals and steps in the project plan, and continues with a careful approach to messaging.
I just read an excellent article by Michael Healey at InformationWeek titled, “Go Rogue with Enterprise Search”. In this article, Michael makes the point that a relatively small percentage of companies have implemented enterprise search, and that most of the companies who have implemented it have typically indexed only one or some of their sources. He refers to enterprise search as the “the most powerful but underused technology available to IT” and suggests that the limited use of full enterprise search is not the fault of the software, but rather a problem with how companies view and deploy search. Anyone considering search should read his article.
In the article, Michael reports on companies who experienced low search adoption rates. There are many possibly causes for these low rates, including controllable factors (such as those I am discussing in my blog post series, “An Intentional Approach to Adoption”); and factors that have to do with the type of enterprise search solution implemented.
Many of the existing enterprise search implementations might be referred to as “Enterprise Search 1.0” solutions. That is, these are solutions which are generally embedded in specific systems or content sources, rarely access both structured and unstructured data, and in some cases, due to the proliferation of search within different systems, can only “federate” search results. Consequently, these legacy enterprise search implementations might require people to know where information is stored, might require the user to search in more than one location, and may struggle with producing quick relevant results. Given the prevalence of enterprise search 1.0 implementations, it is likely that this older approach to search might have been a good part of the lower adoption rates mentioned in Michael’s article.
I implemented a comprehensive enterprise search solution 4 years ago at my former company and have talked with people about enterprise search at a couple of hundred companies since then. My company’s implementation achieved 100% adoption and absolutely great (and measurable) benefits for our business. It became clear to me that companies should be flocking to enterprise search and I couldn’t agree more with Michael’s statement that the “lack of search is quietly sapping productivity”. I have left my former life as Director of IT to spend time with companies who are considering and planning enterprise search implementations in order to do something about this. We have too many difficult problems to solve in our businesses to ignore the benefits we can get from something like enterprise search.
My Experience With Full Enterprise Search
What should a “full enterprise search” solution look like? In my former company’s case, we went beyond what most analysts would describe as a full enterprise search solution, to include something referred to as an “enterprise search 2.0” approach. The basic elements include:
- Indexing of all our unstructured data sources: including all file shares, all files on local hard drives, all SharePoint sites, the Intranet, our company web site, all confidential repositories, and all email (on the Exchange server; and email saved in archive files on local hard drives, saved on the network, and in our email archiving)
- All of the company: all business units, all corporate departments, all offices, virtual workers, departed workers old content, etc.
- Data from our databases (ERP, CRM, etc.)
- Search features and simple search-based applications that combine information from the structured sources (ERP, CRM, etc.) with all of the unstructured content to provide very high level knowledge. This stuff is really amazing.
- Interfaces that return more than just lists of documents, but consolidate information from various sources, sometimes using dashboard elements
Enterprise search paid off for my company in a few months and then started delivering a very real financial benefit that grows each year. Experiencing enterprise search 2.0 is like walking through a hidden gate and seeing a whole new world on the other side. Once one has seen that world, it is impossible to imagine not having instant finger tip access to all of the information, knowledge and expertise in an organization.
Problems Companies Have With Seeing the Value of, and Embracing Enterprise Search
There are a number of fundamental human and organizational problems that get in the way of companies seeing the great value of enterprise search.
An IT perspective: As a former IT Director who has had this conversation with many other IT Directors, enterprise search is not something that seems worth putting aside other conventional IT infrastructure projects for. The conscious or subconscious thinking goes something like this: “We have a backlog of important IT infrastructure projects we need to get to, in order to deal with growing storage, security, disaster recovery, etc. Why should I take on a project like enterprise search when I have many other IT infrastructure projects I want to do and where I know and understand the need, when I don’t understand the information access needs in my company? If this is a business problem; they should come to me if they need this.”
A business perspective: For people on the business side of a firm, perhaps the problem is even more basic. First, having never seen a full enterprise search implementation, they don’t realize the great benefits they are missing and thus will never go to IT asking for enterprise search. Second, people have been told that they could deploy an information system to give quick access to a company’s information and knowledge many times over the last few decades. Most companies have implemented database and document repository systems multiple times, hoping that they would eventually get the “right technology” and deliver on the promise. These projects have consistently under-delivered or failed and thus have bred a very healthy skepticism for promises about information and knowledge access. An enterprise search 2.0 solution is truly a radically different approach, one that if implemented well is finally the answer to all of those former broken promises. However, anyone who has been a part of those past IS projects should be asking tough questions.
Those of us who have implemented full enterprise search solutions that have reached 100% adoption and who have worked on dozens of database and data repository systems over the years are prepared to answer those tough questions. We are, and must be, able to explain why and how enterprise search will actually deliver on those past promises, and how we will be able to help them drive toward full adoption.
In my last blog post, I suggested that by analyzing our past projects, we can improve adoption of our future information systems (IS) projects. Three of my adoption observations are that:
- adoption is hindered when . . . use of the new technology is contrary to the kind of staff we need in our company, contrary to the primary goals we give them, and contrary to human nature;
- adoption is hindered when . . . we do not understand how to drive adoption;
- adoption is hindered when . . . the technology does not address an important need or the initial implementation was not sufficiently tailored to the business to be compelling.
Getting good adoption rates with any new technology, requires keeping in mind these impediments to adoption in all stages of a project, from considering the fit and value of a new technology, to executing the deployment. Let’s focus on the first impediment – the match between what the technology asks our staff to do, and who they are.
“Use of the New Technology Is Contrary To the Kind of Staff We Need In Our Company”
If we look at professional services firms, business success requires hiring and developing staff who are creative and independent problem solvers. And creative, independent problem solvers are not, by nature, inclined to change how they work to match a new standard process. This means that the best staff in professional service firms, and the junior staff who look up to them, are not likely to adopt a new IS.
“Use of the New Technology Is Contrary To the Primary Goals We Give Them”
In a professional services firm, business success requires our staff to be highly client focused. We train them to avoid distractions and to focus their energies and time on understanding and delivering on the needs of the many different clients they serve. And while we might ask them to do other things, like put information into databases or organize documents into repositories, we do not emphasize this “low priority” work, nor do we create rewards or penalties for following this behavior. Acknowledging that one must limit the things we identify as “key priorities”, we reward for actions tied to client focus, client service and effective financial management.
If we are deploying an IS project that requires our staff to stop their priority work in order to add information to databases, or documents to repositories, we are setting up a conflict with their company directed priorities and rewards, and thus not likely to get good adoption.
“Use of the New Technology Is Contrary To Human Nature”
It is difficult to over-state how much people resist change. No matter how great the benefits, people resist changing how they do their work for many reasons, including:
- lack of understanding of the importance/value of the change,
- lack of trust in those driving the change,
- and perhaps the most important and most fundamental reason: fear
We might think that this fear is based in a rational concern about how a change may affect them, a concern that a new system may fail, and that they will pay a price. But neuroscientists and psychologists suggest the problem is more fundamental, that fear of change is an evolutionary survival mechanism wired into who we are. They suggest that when change is thrust upon us, that the first reaction is emotional, rather than conscious and rational. And they suggest that this emotional and biological response impedes our abilities to even listen. So when we are making our great and rational IS roll-out presentation, the reaction in much of our audience may be at a sub-conscious level, and it may be preventing them from even hearing our arguments about the value of the new system. Sub-conscious fears that may be in their minds include: “loss of control”, “loss of status”, “feelings of incompetence,” and a sense that their many other priorities are overwhelming them or that too much change is going on in their life.
Getting employees to adopt new systems is pretty tough when their subconscious is full of these fears, they are creative and independent by nature, and your company is strongly pressing other priorities!
As technologists, addressing these very human issues may seem daunting. However, there is good news when it comes to enterprise search. When we do a good job of configuring enterprise search to the language and needs of our company, many of these impediments go away. For example, an enterprise search solution can provide the information our staff needs without asking them to pause from their core work to put information into databases or repositories, and without forcing them to change how they manage their information.
The bottom line is, if your new information system requires your staff to do something that is contrary to who they are or what your company tells them is important, your adoption rates are likely to be very low. Creating an IS that is “easy to use” and that has “information your staff wants” is not sufficient to generate broad adoption.
In my last blog post, I suggested that many of our past information systems solutions did not fully achieve our hopes or the claims we made when we proposed these projects. The most common cause of underperformance with these projects has been due to slow adoption growth rates.
The history of new technology adoption during the last 100 years shows that new technology adoption rates are accelerating (see Figure 1 below).
However, despite this acceleration, broad adoption of new technologies often takes years. For while some people are eager to explore what is “new”, the majority will always be hesitant to change. This very human reality and our awkwardness in dealing with it is part of the cause for the relatively low information systems (IS) adoption rates we have experienced in the last twenty-five years.
In my experience, when an information system was deployed to people who had no choice – who were required to use the application each day as a central part of their job – with time and training, adoption can reach 100%. However, when we have deployed IS projects that are optional, adoption rates tend to be in the 15 – 40% range. And in a firm that requires collaborative work, some of these systems have little value unless almost everybody participates. In these cases, slow and/or incomplete adoption can effectively kill an otherwise great project, not to mention the loss of time and money invested in the project
The challenge of completing our information systems projects and getting good ROI before the next new solution comes out will always be with us. However, there is much we can do to improve our odds. For example, we can choose projects where human nature makes success much more likely. We’ve seen this with many of our enterprise search implementations.
However, to attain success with all IS projects, you have to take a more intentional approach to achieve successful adoption rates. Some of the aspects of an “intentional approach” are:
- Don’t just deploy the search engine, build “adoption” into your project plan
- Understand how different groups of users view new technologies, and use this to bring all of the groups on board
- Follow up your new technology launch with carefully crafted and targeted reminders
- Observe, learn and modify
My future blog posts will look at this more “intentional approach”, exploring both the impediments that get in the way of achieving full adoption, and approaches to get past these impediments.
By analyzing our past projects to understand what worked and what did not, we can use what we learn to improve our future projects. What have you learned from your past IS deployments?
Welcome to my first Coveo blog post. My name is Trent Parkhill, and while I have been configuring Coveo’s enterprise search platform for the past four years, I only recently joined the company. In my role as Director of Consulting on our professional services team, I will be focused on helping engineering, consulting and professional services firms understand and achieve great value from Enterprise Search 2.0.
I come to Coveo after 30 years in the consulting world, having worked as an engineer in the design of a wide variety of major projects. During this time, I also managed many information technology projects, worked as a manager in one of the company’s business units, and spent five years managing IT. This broad background has given me a unique perspective on how technology needs to operate in order to add measureable business value.
In the industry I come from, success depends on a firm’s ability to fully leverage its own information, knowledge and expertise. We have always understood this, and so with the introduction of computers in the last twenty-five years, we completed many information systems projects that attempted to solve this challenge. Most of these systems organized our information and knowledge in databases and document repositories. However, despite these attempts at organization, the most valuable information continued to migrate into less structured and more transient sources like email. And despite repeated attempts to consolidate the number of information sources, the number keeps growing, and information continues to be dispersed. Since most of these systems failed to fully achieve their goals, every few years we have embraced with renewed hope the next new database or document management software.
Several years ago, I found that enterprise search 2.0 could solve the problems we were repeatedly trying to solve with databases and document repositories – but unlike those past projects, enterprise search was rapidly and widely adopted. My former company achieved 100% adoption, payback in months, and significant financial benefits that continue to grow.
So why did Enterprise Search 2.0 succeed when so many others had failed? Partly because it addressed two of the key impediments that have limited the success of many past information systems projects: namely that this solution provides all of the information people want, without our staff having to do added work, or to change how they work! Think about it – have you succeeded in getting all of your staff to feed databases, put information into standard document repositories, or to change how they manage their electronic information?
Through a series of blog posts over the next few months, I will explore why information technology projects have a history of low adoption and underperformance, and how we might use this understanding to ensure success in our future projects. I look forward to reading your posts and know that by sharing our experiences, we can find ways to make all of our future technology deployments widely adopted and of great value to our businesses. I welcome your thoughts, experiences, and comments.