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How a Collaboration Technology Gets Adopted

by Craig Roth  |  January 25, 2012  |  Comments Off on How a Collaboration Technology Gets Adopted

Adoption, adoption, adoption.  Sometimes it seems like that’s all anyone wants to hear about when it comes to collaborative technologies such as social networking, SharePoint, Jive, or intranets.  I’m on record as being a bit of a curmudgeon about adoption since I’ve seen it abused so frequently (particularly in the SharePoint space) by IT folks that don’t want to actually talk to the business about what they need and co-own the solution.  I’ve written about this before in ’Driving adoption’ is a band aid for poor demand management, Outside In Strategy for SharePoint (or Rethinking the Need to “Drive Adoption”), and (for a laugh) my review of the SharePoint evangelism videos.

Still, lack of adoption is certainly a symptom (not the cause) of a failing collaboration initiative and worth investigation.  There are many possible reasons that adoption can be spotty or non-existent.  This point was driven home recently in a get-together my team had to review what participants of our social and collaboration field research told us.  As we analyzed the results, I could see a common thread across disparate topics (RFPs, governance, training) that could be connected to tell a story about how a collaboration technology gets adopted based on the real-life stories of our study participants. 

So I whipped out a sheet of jumbo scratch paper and draw the following diagram to show how they connect up:

How collaboration technology gets adopted

OK, so I’m no artist.  But if you look at the enlarged image, it shows all the steps that happen on the way to adoption and how many places the study participants had stories about how it went wrong. 

  • Product selection: A technology may start with a formal product selection step, such as through the purchasing department or an RFP.
  • End user decision to use: But purchasing and licensing have little to do with whether a technology will be used.  There are several options for how a user will decide to use a technology, influenced by where they are on the governance spectrum, from formal standards to guidance to users bringing it in from home without IT even involved. 
  • Promotion: Regardless of the route that end users take to deciding (or being compelled) to use the technology, there were many stories about how people knew what to do with it and when to use it.  These ranged from event-style rollouts to formal training to more informal mentoring approaches. 
  • Adoption: All this led to either lots of adoption, failure (usually lost momentum), or a limbo state where there is spotty adoption and a decision needs to be made whether to take another go at increasing usage or just accept where it’s at. 
  • Resurrection: Technologies don’t really die if not adopted – they may just lie dormant and be re-introduced in a few years when the technology improves, is reborn under a catchier name, or people that were preventing it move out of the way. 
  • Value: As I said above, the ultimate goal shouldn’t be adoption (except through the narrow lens of a technology owner getting reviewed on “success”) – it should be the value it provides to the business.  There were too few participants that discussed value in our unguided interviews.

We’ll be writing and publishing more on the results of this major field research project soon, with lots more detail on all these areas and what we think you should do about them.  I just wanted to share the picture and a high level view that I found interesting (and hope you do too!).

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Category: collaboration  governance  microsoft-sharepoint  social-software  

Craig Roth
Research VP, Tech and Service Providers
7 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Craig Roth is a Research Vice President focused on cloud office suites, collaboration tools, content management, and how they are being impacted by digital workplace and digital business trends...Read Full Bio

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