If You Feed Them, They Will Come

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  • Why end-user adoption is a process, not a project
  • How to gain valuable feedback from the end users
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This is a story for any CIO who has yet to fully internalize one of the hardest and least intuitive lessons of IT: that end-user adoption must always be a process, never a project.

Canadian Janet Blais, director of information technology at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario, admits she had to relearn the hard way, and at pretty high cost, how quickly a complex and expensive IT system can become shelfware without user buy-in. And she concedes turning end-user adoption into a process, rather than a project, involved plenty of trial and error. It was an effort that took some time to pay off, although pay off it certainly did.

However, these days, she says, with an extraordinarily successful buy-in process under her belt, she has become a bit of an ambassador for the idea of making end-user adoption a process. Whenever she talks to a fellow CIO struggling to implement software, she has found the problem is usually due to a lack of acceptance and enthusiasm from users. Yet given how frequently the necessity of buy-in has been aired over the years, she is still surprised how often the question, 'What do your end users think?' earns the reply, 'I don't know, we didn't ask them', from those frustrated, if naive, IT practitioners. Her message to them mdash; get users involved from the very beginning via a carefully considered process mdash; might be painful for some CIOs' egos but it can generate a massive pay-off.

It is not that Blais had not involved users in the implementation of products before mdash; she most certainly had, although more typically in the form of a project, rather than a process. Blais has, after all, been with the institute's technology area for more than 28 years. She has been through all its growing pains from technology to technology, and devised her own methodology for selecting new products and winning buy-in. But the institute's first content management system (CMS) was basically an IT-driven project, largely because no one had a clear idea at the time of what was required. She has no doubt that was the root of most of that system's ills.

"That was really an oversight on my part because it was new territory for us. If the users had been involved from the start, we might have been more successful because we would have had their support and cooperation. Because we didn't involve them from the get-go, the users did not feel they were a part of the process.

"Our members visit our Web site every day looking for current CA [chartered accountant] news items, applications, events and more. Because it's such an important part of member communications, our Web site is constantly being updated to keep it fresh. It is important for the staff who update the site to have an efficient CMS system that is easy to use," Blais says.

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