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Volume Analytics:
Getting Users to Clamor for Your New System

online columnist Guy Creese     Column published in DMReview.com
January 20, 2005
  By Guy Creese

We're all familiar with many of the requirements for a successful system implementation: solid funding, a realistic project plan, a powerful business sponsor, tested and easy-to-use software and so on. However, one method that I've seen successfully used over the years in a wide variety of companies is rarely mentioned: harnessing peer pressure to speed system adoption.

An Alternative to the "Shove It Down Their Throat" Approach

Let's face it - if you're the typical, harried business user, having a new system shoved down your throat by a fist-pounding IT manager and business sponsor is a bit like being forced to swallow foul-tasting medicine, "Here, shut up and take this - it's good for you. You'll thank me in the end." Hmm, well, maybe.

On the other hand, hearing your peers rave about a system makes you want to get on the bandwagon before it passes you by. The end result - wholesale system adoption - may be the same, but having the company clamor for a system rather than grudgingly adopt it (and sabotage it whenever possible) is a much nicer experience - and more productive - for everyone.

Of course, there are some caveats to this approach. First, the system must actually be worthwhile. It's hard to get users begging for a system if it does not improve their working life in some way - it must save them time, show hard-to-get information or deliver a new capability. Second, the business may have to accept a more leisurely adoption timeline - at least officially. However, in the long run, system adoption is often faster than it is in the "shove it down their throat" mode, since the company avoids the many "re-rollouts" necessary when end users don't readily adopt the system - or even sabotage it.

Three concrete, real-world examples should clarify what I'm talking about.

Make the System a Scarce Resource so People Have to Ask for It

As a new IT director at a surgical instrument company that had a hodgepodge of systems, Frank decided that one of his first tasks should be to design and implement a corporate dashboard. So Frank dutifully scurried around, set up data feeds from multiple systems and had a system ready to go within several months. However, rather than rolling it out to the entire company, Frank initially allowed only a small group to use it. "You see," he told me, "rolling it out to everyone at once will be a training nightmare, since I don't have a full-time trainer and I want to make sure people know what they're looking at. So I'm only going to give it to middle management in the first round. That will give me time to iron out the bugs before upper management sees it. Besides," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "I figure the C-level folks will eventually demand the system because they hate the idea of their underlings being smarter than they are, and the floor foremen - who hate being blindsided - will want it because they want to know what data their bosses are looking at." His predictions were correct - in fact, employees made a point of telling their co-workers, "By the way, I'm on the dashboard system." Within three months the system had been adopted by the entire company and was a rousing success.

Let Envy Rear Its Ugly Head

In the early 1990s, pharmaceutical companies rolled out laptop-based sales force automation (SFA) to their sales reps. One project manager told me, "The first year was a combination of ignorance and sabotage. Some reps dropped the laptops; others ran over them with their cars. It was only the recent college grads - those who were comfortable with computers - that had a clue. Although a whole bunch of reps wouldn't use the laptops, I didn't do a thing, because I knew what was coming."

"At the end of year one, it was only the SFA-savvy reps who went to Achievers: they'd used the laptops to better organize their work and territories. All of a sudden, the older reps who had been balking at using the system were now working their tails off to learn it because 1) they couldn't stand it that the 'young whippersnappers' were making more in commissions than they were and 2) their wives were yelling at them to make Achievers because they wanted to go to Hawaii. By year three, everyone was on board and aggressively using the software to optimize their time. By then, you couldn't pry the laptops out of their hands."

Ignite the Competitive Instinct

A number of years ago, I worked within the international IT department of a large multinational. We'd rolled out a new version of the order processing system but couldn't get any subsidiary to install it. On a Monday, my boss and I were bemoaning the fact when he mused, "You know, I think I can fix this." With that, he called the IT manager at the UK subsidiary, made small talk and eventually got around to asking when the UK was planning to install the new version. "Oh, within the next several weeks," replied Colin vaguely. "Oh, really?," said Bill, winking at me. "France is installing it this Sunday, and I figured you'd be ahead of them." With that, Colin said he'd certainly be installing it over the weekend as well.

Bill hung up, called the IT manager at the French subsidiary, and after several minutes let drop that the UK was installing the new version of OPS on Saturday. Fernando sputtered into the phone and announced that the English would be behind the French - as usual - as he was planning to install it immediately after the close of business on Friday. "You see," chuckled Bill, after he got off the phone, "it never hurts to ignite the competitive instinct. Besides, based on past history, I know Colin will never check with Fernando and vice versa, so my little ruse is safe."

Go for the Groundswell

In all three cases, these IT managers knew the ebb and flow of office politics and used it to their advantage. They leveraged scarcity, envy and competitiveness to make sure their systems got on the "Most Wanted List." So at your next system rollout, don't rely solely on logic to convince your users to adopt the system. Instead, use a smidgen of human psychology to spice things up. After all, creating a groundswell of demand so that your users are shouting, "We want the system!" is much more powerful than your lone voice saying, "You need the system."


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Analysis.

Guy Creese is an analyst with the Burton Group, covering content management and search. Creese has worked in the high tech industry for 25 years, at both Fortune 500 companies and small startups, in positions ranging from programmer to product manager to customer support engineer.  He can be reached at gcreese@burtongroup.com.

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