System Adoption, More Than Yes or No


To say I am behind in my reading is like saying the ocean is wet, a bit of an understatement. Still, I hope to get through some of it regularly because usually if it makes its way to my stack of things to read it has some redeeming qualities.

Today I ran across an item that was worth the wait. I was reading the November 2011 edition of Communications, the journal published by the Association of Computing Management, when I came across the article Managing IS Adoption in Ambivalent Groups. Great! I’m getting ready to role out a major system and I’m seeking to invigorate an existing system.

This article by DongBack Seo, Albert Boonstra, and Marjolein Offenbeek, wasn’t full of solutions but it did make me realize that I had only been looking at part of the problem.

Two Dimensions of Adoption

Adoption is not a true/false scenario. It is a two-dimensional quadrant. Along one dimension is the normal measurement of usage. You have those that barely use the system and those that live in it.

imageWhat I hadn’t really conceptualized before is that you have a spectrum of users that use the system and another spectrum of those that resist. When you have users that are positive on one scale and negative on another, what the article refers to as ambivalent, you have groups of users that I haven’t traditionally considered.

Let’s take a Content Management System (CMS) as an example. I’m going to use SharePoint but it could be almost any system. As with any system you’ll have those that love it and use it. You’ll also have people that hate it and don’t use it.

Consider those that hate SharePoint but use it. They may be forced to use it because leave requests have been automated in SharePoint and their project manager insists everyone use SharePoint to collaborate. These people will use it, but I wouldn’t call them successful adoption examples.

Now consider the traveling sales staff. They would love to use it but they have mostly switched to iPads and between random connection quality and poor iPad specific interfaces, they don’t use SharePoint much. It just doesn’t fit what they are trying to do on a daily basis. They may want to use SharePoint, but it is a moot point.

People who use Macs because they are manipulating a lot of multimedia content could also fall into this group.

The point being that usage doesn’t tell the whole story. You have to address all four groups of users when measuring and implementing the adoption of system.

External Groups

The authors defined two types of non-users, Supporting and Resisting groups. In the above scenario, Management could readily fall into either, though there is a strong correlation between success and Management support.

Another group of non-users could be citizens for a government system, suppliers for a manufacturing company, or any number of external entities. Then there are IT, compliance, and security departments that can fall into either camp.

All of these can influence users of a system.

Taking it All In

All of these groups need to be accounted for in your adoption strategy. Once the system is deployed, you can’t just measure how much someone uses a system to measure success. You need to dig deeper and find out more about why they are, or are not, using the system.

You also need to identify all of the non-user groups and measure their level of resistance to the changes the system may necessitate. Those groups also have to be educated and turned into supporters, even if they never see the system in question.

Given that adoption is what separates a regular system from an important system, these are all important groups to understand and to map into your Change Management plan for rolling out a new system.