Years of budget cuts and still-painful scars from the overheated tech-buying spree of the ’90s have left many companies nervous about being early adopters. Being first in line for products based on cutting-edge technology is even more hair-raising when you’re holding hands with a startup vendor. But a few braver-than-average companies are taking chances and making them pay.
The reasons they become early adopters vary. For some, it’s a necessity rather than a choice, when they find no mature technology to meet their needs. For others, it’s a calculated attempt to save gobs of money. For others still, it’s a necessary step to leapfrog larger competitors. With our "State of the CIO" survey showing that expectations for IT to drive innovation and competitive advantage have climbed year-over-year, the urgency to try something new is mounting. Even Nicholas Carr—Mr. "IT Doesn’t Matter"—admits in his book that IT first movers have an opportunity to gain competitive advantage.
Whatever the motivation, being an early adopter involves significant risks as well as rewards. As with bungee jumping, careful preparation can mitigate many dangers. But at some point, you’re still going to have to take that big step off the bridge.
Before you do it, early adopters uniformly warn, you must make a strong business case for the move—the stronger the better. Will using the new technology ensure that you will gain ground on the competition? Will it allow you to win new business you can’t acquire any other way? Will it cut costs out of your operations like nothing else can? Will it make you orders of magnitude more agile than you are today? If you can’t build a sound case around any of these business outcomes, then waiting or seeking a more established solution is probably the wiser way to go.
And even if you can build the case, you need to look inside and make sure that you and your company have the intestinal fortitude to follow through with the implementation. Working with new tech can have remarkable benefits, but the path to those rewards may be significantly more strenuous than when you deal with established technology from a known vendor. You’ll be building best practices, not borrowing them. Technical support may be limited or nonexistent. You may in effect be beta testing (or even alpha testing) the product. The implementation process will require more risk mitigation planning and ongoing monitoring than you’re accustomed to.
Still interested? Good. Now it’s time to see how several companies made it work.