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Technology User Adoption – The Winning Approach

May 03, 2017 | By Marcia Trask

  • User adoption is crucial to technology implementation, but can take time to achieve
  • Vendor training is the beginning, not the end, of the user adoption process
  • Understand user roles, prioritize role-based training and provide ongoing support

Many years ago, when I initiated a global technology implementation at an enterprise company, a wise colleague of mine told me that I was embarking on a three-year marathon. When I asked her to explain, she said that getting the system implemented was only the beginning. The big hurdle ahead was user adoption of the new system, and it would follow a three-year cycle: “In year one, everyone will hate the system simply because it is new and different,” she said. “In year two, they will tolerate it and begin to see some value. By year three, they’ll swear they can’t live without it.”

She was right.

I learned a lot on that project, especially the importance of proactively addressing user adoption needs. I had naively assumed that the vendor’s technology training would be sufficient, and that we could “flip the switch” on the new system and people would use the tool in a self-sufficient manner.

I was wrong.

Don’t misunderstand – the vendor offered great training. But its instruction was based on a “train the trainer” model that many vendors use. Its goal was to quickly transfer knowledge to the champions who purchased the technology and move on. I had underestimated the scope, role specificity and time commitment required to adequately train users (all busy with their day jobs) to move them through the adoption process. After a couple of intense years – and some painful trial and error – I discovered the five maxims for successful technology user adoption:

  • Understand the user roles. Just as it’s critical to know buyer personas for effective marketing, it is imperative to understand the different types of users for a new technology. One or two are system admins who need deep knowledge of the tool. Some are power users who work in the system daily. But the majority may only have limited or periodic interactions with the tool, depending on their jobs. These users don’t care about all the cool functionality available. They just want to log in, accomplish their tasks, get the data they need and log out. As you map out the user roles for your technology system, think about all possible roles. What are the different internal roles? Do they vary by team or job title? Are there external users (e.g. agencies, partners) who need access? How do managers need to use the tool?
  • Map training to user roles. Once you know who your users are and how they interact with the system, you can effectively map the training content they require (e.g. if someone only needs to log into a budget tool quarterly to download a report, he or she doesn’t need training on managing accruals). Define the specific training content for each user role and consider the appropriate delivery options (e.g. classroom training, e-learning, webcasts, downloadable reference guides) that fit your user requirements and budget. Remember that people have different learning styles and you need to offer training in various formats. Use the vendor’s training materials as a starting point, but be specific with examples relevant to your organization’s processes, workflows and policies.
  • Prioritize training needs. You are not going to be able to train all your users immediately on a new technology. Start by following the 80/20 rule. You’ll likely have 20 percent of users doing 80 percent of the work in the new system. Focus on this group first, and prioritize the rest appropriately. Develop a training plan, communicate it to your user base, and report on the progress of new training content and offerings as they become available. One note: Be sure to address how you scale training efforts in your plan, especially if you need to train users in different geographies and/or users external to your organization.
  • Provide ongoing support. While the bulk of your training effort may be focused on year one of a new technology implementation, the user adoption process never completely ends. Your organization will continue to hire, experience turnover, move people into new roles, retain new agencies and experience other changes. Your vendor will also roll out new functionality that must be integrated into your workflow. This means that you must offer ongoing technology training, in addition to providing day-to-day technical support for users (e.g. password resets, license management, troubleshooting) that your IT function may not handle for you. One recommendation is to create an internal portal or collaboration space to archive your library of training content for ongoing use, as well as provide contact information for immediate support requests.
  • Proactively communicate… and listen. As with any change management effort, communication is a critical element of the technology adoption process. Make sure that you are communicating your adoption plan, training offerings, and support services to your user base frequently and through multiple channels. It’s also critical to set up feedback mechanisms to gather user experiences, actively listen to the feedback, and respond to it in a timely manner (especially from the 20 percent of users who are driving the greatest value from the tool). Sure, you will hear from some frustrated users who wish to vent about the changes. But, you will also gain insight into issues (e.g. system bugs, process obstacles, technology integration failures) that need to be addressed for the adoption effort to succeed.

Above all, remember that the user adoption process is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself – and your organization – accordingly.

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