Sunday, November 19, 2006

When it comes to implementing new technology...

your biggest enemy is undoubtedly going to be the user's tastes and preferences. Here is a little story about how I tried to integrate Gmail at my office.

I work at an office with two lawyers, two secretaries and me, the utility infielder of the legal profession. Generally there is a lot of collaboration between the lawyers and secretaries and both sides of the office generally need to know where the other lawyer is going to be so they can schedule meetings.

At the time we were using AOL and their calendar, but one of the lawyers was having SEVERE problems with the calendar actually saving and sharing events. Enter Google Apps. This would give us the ability to chat across the office, share calendars, use almost unlimited email, and have a firm start page. Plus it would have given both lawyers the ability to check and add to their schedules from home or anywhere else they were. All of these features, for free.

But despite my intensive work on the project and the time and effort spent training the other secretaries and trying to get the host we were on to work correctly with Google Apps, the users rejected it.

How could that be? The system was superior to anything we were using. It had a cleaner interface and would have actually reduced a cost for the office. So how could it fail? Simple. User tastes and preferences.

Despite the fact I had been in the office for four years at that point in time, brought about a successful technological revolution (I built a high speed network into the office and took us off of dial-up along with going from 386 IBMs to Pentium III's), and helped make the office faster and more efficient, I fell short of the mark. The only thing I can honestly chalk it up to is that despite the initial excitement that came with creating the system, my boss' tastes and preferences were with the old AOL system. Try as I might, I couldn't get the lawyers to make the switch after everything had been put into place. Ever tried to lead a horse to water? It isn't always easy. So, I've compiled a list of things I wish I would have done before I started switching us from one system to the other:

1. Make it seem like the user's idea.
- If it is a great success then they will look like a genius and absorb some type of social gain. Pitch it to them as a the best possible option amongst two or three other options, almost like you are forcing your hand so the boss will hopefully go with your suggestion.

2. Put it on paper.
- Most bosses run by the numbers and if you can give a SMALL inclination as to how this is going to quantitatively improve the company then it will help facilitate the migration.

3. Slowly migrate them over.
- Granted, most of us reading the blog are tech savvy and ready to rumble when it comes to technology but most people our employer's age aren't so brazen when it comes to technology. So, the best thing to do is give them a slow, gentle migration, something akin to massaging a grizzly bear. First take them over from their old email to their new ones, then the calendar, then the chat program. Much like massaging said bear, this will not be painless or easy.

4. Make sure the office staff are ahead of the decision maker.
- If the secretaries and everbody else are loving the system and raving about it then the decision maker's adoption will be that much easier. They won't have to wait for the new users to figure out what they are doing or suffer through painful and costly errors that could be a result of the transition. Plus, if the support staff is already onboard, it will appear that there is work ready and waiting for them when they finally do adopt.

Here is something of use.


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