New Technology Implementation Tips from Harout Katerjian
Our Marketing Director Geoff Talbot recently sat down with expert panelists Simeon Cathey and Harout Katerjian for a webinar we hosted just the other day. (You can find this webinar, about implementing new technology in the age of digital transformation here.) Their insights were so good we had to share them again! Here is what Emgage’s own Head of Product Development Harout Katerjian had to say from a development standpoint. And if you’re looking for more technology implementation tips, check out our blog post with CEO and Co-Founder of Content Panda, Simeon Cathey.
How does digital transformation look at the organizations you work with? Where are people confused by it?
What’s very revealing is the way we buy tech. We don’t try to understand the needs of our businesses, users, customers and employees before picking a new piece of technology. Instead, we try to attach a category to the problem and then go look for vendors and forced solutions within that category. For example, let’s say an organization has problems with employees working together. What happens is they immediately decide that they need to categorize that as a collaboration problem, and then that limits their options for solutions. They don’t dive into what the needs are and build the solution from there. But instead, they start with problem categorization, and look for vendors that fit within that bubble.
So it’s almost like it’s “snapshot” problem-solving with technology. People have a problem within their organization and, rather than diving deep to effectively solve that problem, people look for a digital product that will solve the issue quickly.
That’s right. And people are doing the same thing with digital transformation. And it comes from the mind of the technology buyer and their need to focus on categorizing problems at a general level, instead of focusing on the needs.
Let us know some of the processes you’ve gone through with clients to help them understand what their business needs are.
I’ll give you an example. We worked with the City of Austin, which has grown drastically in 15 years. Because they’ve grown drastically, their needs have grown, causing departmental challenges. So together with the City of Austin, we conducted 30 in-person interviews across multiple divisions and departments. Then, based on that data, we created and drafted surveys and sent it out to everyone employed with the city. The key to was to simply just ask about their normal work day to find out any frustrations and needs they had. Then we assessed the data.
The next step from there, once we had a good understanding of what the biggest needs and challenges across the organization were, was to map how to eliminate frustrations by a significant factor. This is important. Let’s say, users are spending two hours doing a task. You cannot just improve things by cutting down the time to 1 hour and fifty minutes. The improvement isn’t significant enough and users will not switch. Content switching and training are very frustrating. Users will not see the benefit of switching if improvement is minimal. You always have to target at least a 10x improvement; it has to drastically improve their life to get them to adopt.
There are five common challenges when implementing new technology: complexity, resistance, cost, politics, and legacy systems. Which of these have you most commonly seen with your organization or your clients?
I’ve seen them all, and I would definitely combine complexity, resistance and legacy together because they are all related. But I want to tackle complexity first. Technology is complex when is makes work more difficult for end users, rather than making it simple. But that is not to be confused with being sophisticated. Business applications are incredibly sophisticated because they have a lot of attributes to them. They aren’t like regular apps you can download on your smartphone. Sophistication is necessary, but complexity leads to resistance. Legacy systems also cause resistance. Enterprises have to evolve to stay relevant. But at the same time, they cannot just cut off the old systems they had in place before. That adds the complexity of migration and transferring to the mix. Complexity, resistance and legacy systems are all interrelated.
What are some of the technology implementation failures that you have seen?
You have to get the end user and the business involved early on. Speak with them, interview them, and also make them part of the decision process. I have seen technology implementations fail where there is lack of adoption or the process has completely gone in the wrong direction. That’s because the end users, the business users, the customers and partners were not involved in expressing their needs and their challenges. They didn’t feel like they had a buy-in. And it can’t just be for show. Your organization should take it seriously because there’s actually a lot of value in undergoing that process. It’s also key for acceptance because it creates a lot of ownership. People will be excited about this thing that they have taken a part in and helped create.
Is it ever justified, after spending a lot of time and resources and money, to look at a piece of technology and say it’s not going to work and to get rid of it?
There’s this study that they did on investors about the “sunk cost fallacy.” Investors went and bought stock. They learned afterwards that the stock they had purchased was no good and was failing. But they kept it anyway, and actually purchased more of the failing stock. The reasoning behind that is something they call “sunk cost fallacy.” You’ve already sunk so much money into this, that if you just invest a little bit more, you might be able to save face.
With technology, the buyers and the decision makers want to save face. Or they just don’t want to admit that all of the costs they’ve sunk into the new technology has gone to waste. But people need to overcome that and recognize that while they may have lost time and money, its okay to cut their loses and start over. That decision can be hard but sometimes that decision needs to be made, and that’s okay.
What can organizations do to prevent their implementations from failing?
Training is key for success. And there’s another component that I would add that we haven’t talked about: viral coefficient. Go for a high viral coefficient. What I mean by that is, try to distribute technology and tools that will self-propagate. A good example of technology that had a high viral coefficient is the fax machine. Think about the first person who bought a fax machine. They went to their colleague in the other office and convinced them to buy one. And that person went to the next two people and so on. So the fax machine had a high viral coefficient because they self-propagated.
There are a lot of technologies like that. Things like email, phones, and text messages. Basically anything that requires people to go recruit somebody else in order to get the most out of the technology. The most successful approach will be when people do their own selling and training on your behalf without even realizing it.
Tell me one story you can think of when someone successfully implemented a piece of technology and it really helped an organization.
All of our customers. Just kidding. The examples I can think of are Sonepar or Alberici. They are manufacturing and services companies that used our product and capabilities to manage projects. There’s a whole slew of things they tried to accomplish so they could get their technology up and running fast. And during the whole process, we really emphasized reducing the overhead for new users or existing employees. The new technology was up and running quick, without having to do lots of training, and without lots of shifts in their paradigm. So that’s just a quick example.
Sounds like you were able to reduce the challenges of complexity and resistance.
Yeah that’s right. You usually are able to solve both of them when you solve one of them, which is why I mentioned earlier that I would combine them together.
We’ll just finish with one or two sentences of advice for some organizations out there considering implementing new technology.
Talk with the users. Try to reduce complexity while not eliminating sophistication. These are business processes, you need sophistication but you need to make it very simple. Users should be able to come in and discover things in layers. And they should be able to engage with you and your application. Have them do the work for you recruiting other users. That viral coefficient should be high.
Harout Katerjian is the Head of Product Development at Emgage with over 17 years of experience in enterprise software design and architecture. A talented strategist and innovator, he works tirelessly to develop new ways to make work more natural and innovative for the knowledge worker. You can follow him on Twitter or find him on Linkedin.