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The adoption rate blues

I recently spent a few hours reminiscing with a former colleague who had just retired from a management position with, let’s just say, an airplane manufacturer referred to as the company that puts the zero in being. Twenty- five years ago, we were pretty impressed when a chest freezer-sized scanner was delivered to the office: It could only read a specific typeface used by an IBM Selectric typewriter, but, hey, its accuracy rate was 85 percent. The device attracted a lot of early attention, but the 15 percent error rate was too high to encourage its regular use.

Not even a year later, we heard about new technology that was taking over the graphics department. It allowed operators (who required weeks of training) to create 35mm color slides for sales presentations. Sure, all the equipment (and the operators) had to sit in a darkened, climate-controlled room, but the possibilities were enormous. The big problem was the process was very time-consuming, except for the most basic of slides. So, during a crunch, the operators went back (literally) to the drawing table and turned something around in a hurry.

My former colleague has seen scores of similar—and larger—initiatives in this past quarter-century. Some of the outcomes have been fabulously successful, he says; some were complete bombs. One thing remained consistent throughout them all, he observes: a low adoption rate. Very few of the people affected by these new programs greeted them with open arms. The majority of folks were reluctant to change their work behavior, especially those who faced even a single unfulfilled professional promise. We have all likely heard nearly identical stories from people working for large enterprises, and the consequences of the frustration—or, worse, disempowerment—adversely affect the organization. Improving the adoption rate of new technology and processes will always be a challenge for large enterprises, but failing to effectively do so threatens disenfranchising its most valuable asset, its people.

With that in mind, it’s refreshing to note that at least one group of workers seems to readily adopt technology that has been designed to help both them and their organization. LexisNexis just released a survey of knowledge management and Web 2.0 adoption by information professionals (including, but not limited to, librarians, knowledge managers, chief information officers, Web developers, information brokers and consultants).

Nearly all those surveyed (93 percent) say they use an intranet for managing and distributing information, while about half see collaborative work spaces (57 percent), wireless (44 percent) and portals (51 percent) as very important. About 40 percent read blogs every week, and one-third of them access wikis.

The survey asked respondents, “What is the most successful new initiative/service you have launched in the past year?” The top five responses were:

1) document search, retrieval, delivery, and access enhancements, such as centralizing the document collection into a common or integrated library system, open URL linking, RSS feed, taxonomy and library portal integration, development and/or enhancement;
2) embed or migrate IP services within business units;
3) increase, provide and/or offer new training;
4) enhance or standardize the process and quality control procedures; and
5) provide assistance and services proactively.

They also cited as important digitizing significant and/or historical print sources, providing collaborative workspace and creating wiki-type databases. 

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