The Technology Adoption Life Cycle

Why do organizations often take a wait-and-see approach?

I have spent time this week working on a new piece for Cutter on emerging technologies such as cloud computing and MDM. Interestingly, I returned to a tried and true concept—the Technology Adoption Life Cycle. For those of you unfamiliar with TALC, Wikipedia defines it as a model that:

…describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation, according to the demographic and psychological characteristics of defined adopter groups. The process of adoption over time is typically illustrated as a classical normal distribution or “bell curve.” The model indicates that the first group of people to use a new product is called “innovators,” followed by “early adopters.” Next come the early and late majority, and the last group to eventually adopt a product are called “laggards.”

While enterprise technologies have certainly changed in my fifteen years of working with them, one question continues to intrigue me: Which type of organization is most likely to be on the left side of TALC?

To simplify matters, I’ll place all organizations into three categories:

  • The Struggling Organization
  • The Self-Sufficient Organization
  • The Adventurous Organization

Note that economic conditions mean that all bets are off. Many successful organizations these days lack the funds for many desirable or even necessary technological improvements.

The Struggling Organization

Over the course of my career, I’ve had many discussions with people about the challenges that their organizations face implementing new systems and why so many projects failed to hit their marks. While by no means a definitive list, consider the following:

  • the difficulty of gathering comprehensive system requirements during the discovery phase
  • the dynamic nature of requirements
  • the inevitable scope creep and resultant problems during IT projects

Issues like these have plagued both organizations for years. What’s more, they continue to manifest themselves during many (if not most) major IT projects. As a result, organizations that have historically struggled with enterprise systems will rarely—if ever—be on the left of TALC. If anything, they are the very definition of laggards.

The Self-Sufficient Organization

Often I’ll assist organizations begrudgingly upgrading systems. In these cases, the motivation is clearly the stick, not the carrot. For these organizations, previous implementation issues and future enhancements to their apps just don’t matter now (as well as in the short- and mid-terms). These types of organizations are going live in a few weeks and the focus is very much on what needs to happen to continue paying employees, running financial reports, and the like. Only well after the dust settles will “future enhancements” be broached.

In terms of TALC, organizations “getting by” are usually reluctant to take the lead on a new but largely untested technology. You’ll most likely find them in the early to late majority of TALC.

The Adventurous Organization

Then there are organizations that want to be on the leading edge–or perhaps need to be, based on some business reason. They have the following:

  • sufficient financial resources
  • sufficient human resources
  • a “risk-tolerant” culture
  • a compelling business need

These organizations are more likely to implement a largely untested technology and be on the left side of TALC. As an added incentive, at times, software vendors are willing to work with “beta clients” by providing free or heavily discounted resources. In exchange, the vendor will be able to promote the product’s implementation as a successful case study.

Conclusion

Organizations that have had problems implementing and maintaining their systems tend not to be early adopters. In other words, financial, cultural, and political reasons place the vast majority of organizations squarely in the middle of the curve. When walking is a challenge, it’s hard to imagine running.

Feedback

What do you think? Are there are other reasons that organizations often take a “wait and see” approach?

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5 hopefully intriguing thoughts:

  1. Louis Rosas-Guyon

    Bravo! I love the TALC! Not enough people in our industry pay any attention to this incredibly important reality.

    This is so important to me that I wrote about it in my ebook, Nearly Free IT. At the root of my argument is that businesses should avoid the bleeding edge (http://bit.ly/cEeBWH) especially when there is no significant competitive advantage gained.

    By the same token, waiting too long makes you a laggard, and laggards are losers (http://bit.ly/bXzleY). You cannot be at the forefront of your industry with outdated tools.

    Great article Phil! Keep ’em coming.

    Reply
  2. Julian Schwarzenbach

    Phil,

    Another great post.

    What would be interesting would be to plot the risk of failure on the same graph. This would perhaps be an inverse bell curve. Higher risk of failure for early adopters, low risk for the majority and again a higher risk for the laggards possibly due to scarcity of skilled resources, other ‘lagging’ systems and applications etc.

    Julian

    Reply
  3. Paul Saunders

    Solid logic Phil… couldn’t agree more. Like Julian I think it would be interesting to see the failure graph… although I don’t think it would be a direct inverse as the innovators and early adopters would tend to be in a better position to succeed through various factors…. the early part of the graph on the left would have a curious pattern to it I feel with a couple of complex peeks and troughs before the main dip.
    .-= Paul Saunders´s last blog ..Are you Ready for the World Cup? =-.

    Reply
  4. philsimon

    Paul and Julian-

    Thanks for the comments.  I’m a big chart guy and agree that it would be very instructive to plot risk of failure vs. adoption. I’d like to cut the data by industry, budget, size of company, and technology. Who knows what we’d find?

    Reply
  5. BrianSJ

    You are right as regards companies. Alas, government departments are much less inhibited, and struggling depts can ‘leap a generation’ etc.

    Reply

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