I just spent three days at a conference in which 70 people
spent time listening, learning and talking about digital object repositories,
methods for naming and identifying these digital objects amongst shared
repositories, and methodologies for insuring quality of these digital objects.
The information and discussion was interesting, thought-provoking
and inspiring. The technologies we talked about, and the uses for those
technologies, were truly fraught with potential. However, at the end of the
three days, the discussion ended not with detailed hardware or software
requirements, the endorsement of one or more software packages, or even plans
for implementation. The end discussion focused (and rightly so) on how to sell
the idea and whether or not the idea was a good fit for your organization. For
this group realized that despite all the potential (and indeed there was much
potential in what we discussed) everyone knew that “if you build it, they
will come” is truly a misnomer.
In fact, too many times, people fail to realize that even
when you build something technologically fantastic, rarely will it be embraced with
the same level of enthusiasm as its builders.
I do not know of a single IT professional who has not at
some point in his or her career stood proudly by a technology achievement and
watch it get ignored by the user base it was intended for. This applies to all
aspects of IT, from infrastructure, to support, to development.
What happened? There are a hundred other reasons that new
implementations go wrong, including a lack of buy in at the proper level,
improper change management, failure to meet the intended need, the product too
late to satisfy the need, or the product was ahead of its time.
Like it or not, as cool as we think technology is (and we do
think it is cool, or we wouldnt be in this field)–unless you are in the
business of research and design (which few of us are)–the key to the
successful use of technology is in how it is presented and sold to the end
user. Technology is simply a tool, and even though you and I know that using a
screwdriver to drive in a screw works better than a hammer, as long as the end
user of the tool is satisfied with the hammer, your technologically brilliant
screwdriver doesnt stand a chance.
This can really frustrate us to no end, because it is
absolutely clear to us that what we created is exactly what “they”
need, and they are just too dumb to see it right? I mean, come on, you have
to be braindead not to appreciate our magnificent contribution. Sheesh!
In many cases, you DO know better than the end user what is
needed, but then again, sometimes you dont. What matters is that for any
technology solution, someone in the organization has got to feel strongly
enough about the solution to want it and want others to share it with. If you
do not get the buy-in, forget about it.
This buy-in usually has to come at multiple levels, from
those that can command change, to those that control change (not often the same
people) to those who are affected by the change.
That is why your best IT managers and analysts are often
good sales people and more often than not, they did not start out in IT, but
from within the business. For while our dedicated and hard-working IT staff work
behind the scenes to make the “IT miracles” happen, it is those who
understand the business and–perhaps more importantly–the politics of the
business, that can make things happen in the organization.
To make significant contributions in the organization, you
need to pair great IT ideas with the right people to sell those ideas to the
other users. Without this pairing, you are depending on pure luck.
Mind you, this is to some degree an oversimplification of
the successful technology adoption/implementation process, because we know
there is a huge amount of work that goes into it. But, at the end of the day,
lack of buy-in can kill you.
So what does this mean for you? It means that buy in is so
important to the process that it must be worked on before, during, and after a
technology project, and that giving it short shrift can get you in a TON of
trouble. If you dont have a marketing plan for your project (often tied in
with your change management plan), you had better get one. Dont assume that
just because you have top managements approval and/or funding that it is
smooth sailing from that point on–your marketing effort to users has just
For those of you who are the designers, developers, and
architects out there, know that much of your success or failure for your work
hinges not only on the quality of your work but how it is being presented to
your user base. IT managers should understand that just having your staff
produce technically competent work is not the extent of IT management. Its a
partnership, guys and gals, and the more often we remind ourselves of that
fact, the more successful we will be.