The idea of socializing technology innovations within the organization is not a new one. Although most project managers these days are trained in the modern version of the ‘clipboard and stopwatch’ kind of methods — often these days supported by Microsoft Project or Visio — experienced project managers have learned that managing the stakeholder politics and identifying the key factors affecting user adoption have tremendous influence on the timeline, resources and eventual success of (what appears to be) a technology project. So the introduction of innovative technology is a social process, as well as a technical matter.
There are two kinds of socializing that have to happen for a new technology implementation project to be successful: (1) socialization on the front end (end-user adoption); (2) socialization on the back end (workflow/work process integration and compliance). Both sides of the system and their constituent users must be taken into consideration during the planning and design phase of the project.
The front end: User adoption
Let’s start with the front end – user adoption – as this is the part most visibly impacted by social network effects. Collaborative systems are social systems and therefore subject to the same issues and rules that affect social technology systems. For example, Digital asset management (DAM) systems, content management systems (CMS), and shared work spaces like MS SharePoint are collaborative systems, so are subject to these same issues, rules and organizing principles. Social network economics drive the perceived value of these systems. For example, if few of one’s peers or colleagues adopt the system, it will have relatively little value to return for the time invested in learning the system or curating the content (digital assets in the case of DAM) in the system. This kind of personal valuation can be seen in social networking systems from e-mail to enterprise content management systems like SharePoint, in social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as in DAM adoption.
Often, ‘user acceptance’ plays an afterthought role in the integration of a new technology platform in the organization. Information architecture, usability, training and compliance mechanisms are important parts of the design process and roll-out — and not to be left out. However, the organization’s adoption of the system really boils down to the perceived personal value for the individual users. If adoption is merely an afterthought or assumed to be sufficiently addressed in the system design and roll-out phases, the battle to win may have already been lost over the stakeholders and end users who are needed to invest and drive adoption of the new system. In order to properly ‘socialize’ a new technology platform and ensure both user adoption and investment, it is necessary to begin the socialization process early.
Management may have already decided to fund the procurement and implementation of a particular platform; however, management needs to be thinking about the adoption goals as a key metric in the success of the project. As early as the procurement phase, stakeholders and motivated end users should be brought on board to feed into the system requirements and vendor selection process. This kind of process will ensure the investment and feeling of ownership needed to create a core adoption base that will support socialization of the new system within the organization and, most importantly, will help drive further adoption of this system by embedding it in the social fabric of the organization. These are the key socialization influencers in the project.
The back end: Integrating with work processes and influencing compliance
Integrating the new system into current work processes, or changing work processes to support the new system, has a high impact on the individuals in the organization who are most vital to supporting and sustaining this system into the future. Any gains achieved on the front end by successfully starting user adoption will eventually fall away if these back-end users do not take pride of ownership and steward the system forward.
In order to accomplish this, a sufficient discovery process must be included during the planning phase to uncover the potential areas where the system will impact on daily workflow. The importance of good information architecture (IA) and workflow design cannot be overemphasized here. This can be best achieved by discovering and mapping the upstream/downstream relationships between the people affecting the content, approval and metadata input processes, and their co-workers, and eventually ensuring that the system is providing value for the ultimate customer: the end users who are expected to adopt this new system over their previous work practices.
Following the upstream/downstream metaphor, asset owners are viewed as both system customers (cataloguing, archiving assets) and vendors/distributors (providing findable assets to downstream end-users). Understanding this relationship and explaining the upstream/downstream connection to content or asset producers, uploaders and archivists helps to motivate better compliance by exposing the effects of poor compliance on downstream customers. It is important to note that the upstream producers of product are often widely separated from their downstream consumers. In order to bridge that gap, management needs to support internal team leadership roles to educate asset owners continually and evangelize the upstream/downstream relationships.
Value to the back-end stakeholders can also be shown by leveraging the system to distribute work to the appropriate subject matter experts and asset producers. Value on the back end should be shown by using the system to reduce redundant tasks, as well as by using it to improve the archiving and knowledge management benefits. Additionally, the content producers, uploaders and administrators should be continually involved in process improvement (thereby supporting their stake in the outcomes). Remember to explain the value they are providing to end users and regularly report back any increases in user adoption and content consumed. Always report positive feedback about either the content or the system.