Test essay 4: Diffusion of innovations for group work in a firm

See what a "test essay" is in the introduction to my previous essay.
This is a question another doctoral student was assigned. The question asked for a lot of details, so nothing is covered very thoroughly. I did only minor editing just now, and those edits are marked with [].

The question:
"A large firm is acquiring technology to enhance group work. because of the great expense, management is very concerned about assessing the adoption process at various times over the next two years and taking steps, as necessary to insure its successful adoption within the firm
a) define "successful adoption" after two years from the date of introduction of the technology
b) based on your understanding of diffusion of innovations theory, what variables characterizing the diffusion of the innovation are you going to focus on to assess the status of the diffusion of the innovation at periodic intervals over the next two years. Justify your choices, based on innovation theory. You should also consider that these should provide you with managerial information that you can use to take steps to ensure successful adoption.
c) For each variable identified in (b), what data would you collect to measure the variable?
d) Describe factors that encourage and discourage adoption of an innovation
e) What specific steps would you take to ensure a high level of adoption of the technology within your firm.

My response (and I'm not terribly satisfied with it, but it is practice):
0. Introduction
Many authors have written on the diffusion of innovations and the adoption of technologies within the enterprise. The most highly cited of these is Rogers and his book, Diffusion of Innovations, which is now in its fifth edition. There are also many researchers within information systems research who have validated Rogers' theory and who have expanded it to address concerns with interactive technologies and with technologies within the enterprise. Venkatesh's MIS Quarterly article, for example, takes many of these models, and creates a combined model. This essay will review various aspects of diffusion of innovations theory both as described by Rogers and subsequent research by Ilie et al, Fichman and Kemmerer, and Venkatesh et al, and provide guidance useful to management of a large firm that is acquiring a technology to enhance group work.

1. What does "successful adoption" mean?
Successful adoption means different things to different organizations. In this case, this technology has been acquired to enhance group work. What does "enhance" mean and what portion of the work done in the firm is "group work?" Is there a goal to increase the proportion of work that is done in groups as opposed to individually? All of these might be factors in defining successful adoption.

For the purposes of this essay, let us say that the firm's goals [are] for existing and new collaborations, that communication is more fluid and efficient, that documents are shared within the system instead of through e-mail, and that work processes and products are archived, traceable, and findable. Some measures include, "when x% of groups use the tool," or "when the majority of documents shared, are shared through the system, and not through e-mail," or "when travel costs to meetings decrease by x%," or "when there are x documents, y page views, z logins per unit time." This tool might not work for all collaborations. If the work is loosely coupled, and can be easily modularized, then communication within the group will be much different than if the team members must work together synchronously to solve problems. For this and other reasons, success should not be defined as 100% adoption.

2. What do we need to study to characterize diffusion of an innovation?
According to Rogers, the diffusion of an innovation is the communication of an innovation through a channel over time. The appropriate variables will change over time, through the course of the diffusion process. In this section the variables are divided up in to early, mid, and late stages of diffusion

2.1 Early Stages
At this stage few if any staff members have adopted the innovation. Studies within firms often take a survey of training class attendees soon after they've finished a course. The variables in this stage include knowledge and attitude toward the innovation.

2.1.1 Knowledge
In the early stages, it is necessary to gauge the awareness of the technology within the firm. Early adopters require different knowledge than later adopters. For them awareness is most important whereas for later adopters more knowledge is required to gauge relative advantage and similar factors.

2.1.2 Attitude
This variable includes the potential adopter's willingness to try or use the innovation and if they believe that the innovation will help them in their work and if they believe they will be successful in using it.

2.2 Mid Stages
In these stages of the diffusion of an invention we can expect that early and early-middle adopters will have made their innovation adoption decision, hopefully having adopted the innovation. This is a critical point for making adjustments to the firm's support for the innovation to ensure its continuing adoption.

2.2.1 Tool Usage
At this stage, we already have many users of the innovations, so we can measure to what extent these tools are used and if there has been adaptation or re-invention necessary to adoption. Tool usage variables might include number of people who have logged in or uploaded documents or contributed to conversation over some period of time or page views or similar measures. It's also important to know what adaptations were necessary [in the adoption process], because these provide valuable feedback on changes needed for the innovation to meet the needs of the users.

2.2.2 Knowledge Gaps
For mid-stage adopters, observability and demonstrability are more important. They must know how the innovation works, and see others using it. An important set of variables addresses the training needs of potential adopters who have not decided to adopt, but might if they receive proper support

2.3 Late Stages
At these stages, all but the laggards have adopted. Tool usage measures will be most important, but there should also be variables critiquing the innovation and its implementation within the firm, so that improvements can be made for future use.

3. How can we gather the data needed to characterize the diffusion?
We can measure the variables described above in section 2 using surveys, interviews, content analysis, and statistical measures of tool usage available from system logs.

3.1 Surveys
Surveys should be given at several points during the diffusion process including soon after introduction, after a few months, and at the end of two years. Questions should be pulled from the surveys that have been used many times and validated for use within organizations. These [validated surveys] have questions that form scales for all of the variables mentioned above.

Variables addressed by surveys:
â¢awareness knowledge
â¢willingness to use
â¢perceived usefulness
â¢perceived ease of use
â¢perceived critical mass
â¢self efficacy

3.2 Interviews
Interviews with early adopters and non-adopters will provide more information to update the innovation so that it is most useful, and how to increase awareness and knowledge of use. In particular, opinion leaders should be approached and asked to be early "beta" testers of the innovation, and they should be interviewed to learn more about what training will be required, how to market the innovation to other staff members, as well as what value they see in adopting the innovation.

Variables addressed by interviews:
â¢relative advantage
â¢perceived ease of use

3.3 Content analysis
Once the tool has been adopted by some, there will be some adaptation and re-invention. There will also be different ways to use the tool. Analyzing the content that has been added to the tool (for example, types and content of documents uploaded to SharePoint), will be informative in marketing the tool to other potential adopters and for updating the training and the tool itself.

3.4 Tool usage
Tool usage data can be gathered from system logs. Different systems are capable of tracking different things but some examples include:
â¢number of users, number of unique users
â¢number of logins per unit time
â¢number of documents shared per unit time
â¢number of comments per item
â¢time spent on site per unit time

4. What factors encourage or discourage adoption of an innovation?
The factors that encourage or discourage adoption of an innovation include those described by Rogers as well as additions from the MIS literature related to interactive innovations and motivations that occur within a firm. The factors include: complexity, compatibility, observability, demonstrability, trialability, perceived usefulness, extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, and perceived critical mass. Each of these factors is more or less important if the individual is an early adopter or laggard, and for different technologies.

4.1 Complexity
Complexity is sometimes further divided into perceived ease of use, technology readiness, and self-efficacy factors. Perceived ease of use describes if the potential adopter feels that he or she can get the innovation to work for them. This might be offset by some other factors, but generally, innovations that are easier to use are more quickly adopted. Technology readiness can refer to firms, groups, or individuals. It refers to the set of conditions, or and existing set of pre-requisite innovations that exist such that the new innovation can be used and will be accepted. For example, the internet must have been adopted for software as a service to be adopted. Self-efficacy is a bit different. It refers to the individual's belief that he or she can make the innovation work or can be successful using it.

4.2 Compatibility
There is never a fresh start or a blank slate to start with. Every firm has a history of successful and less successful innovations and an ecosystem of tools, information and communication processes, and ways of doing work (see Davenport for a discussion of a firm's ecosystem). This factor addresses if the innovation fits in to the existing process and workflows. If the innovation is not compatible with existing workflows, then it will be adopted more slowly.

4.3 Observability, demonstrability, trialability
These three factors are groups because they are somewhat similar. In general, innovations will be adopted more quickly if potential adopters can see how they work, and try them in a low risk way. Observability means that the potential adopters can see other people using the tool. The counter example Rogers gives is in the case of condoms for disease control. Potential adopters don't know if others have adopted the technology or not, so the diffusion of the innovation is slower. Demonstrability deals with if the potential adopter can see how the innovation works. Finally trialability is if the potential adopter can try the innovation to see how it works, in a low risk way. Potential adopters are more willing to adopt if they can try the innovation first.

4.4 Perceived usefulness and perceived relative advantage
These two factors answer the question, "is it worth it?" A potential adopter has to believe that the new innovation will be useful and has advantages over what they are currently using. If there is effort involved to learn a new innovation but provides little more than existing innovations, then adoption is unlikely.

4.5 Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations
This category of factors is important when discussing innovations within companies. Companies can provide extrinsic motivations such as making the innovation mandatory, providing incentives for innovation usage, and punishing employees who fail to adopt an innovation. Intrinsic motivations include seeing respected co-workers use an innovation or feeling that the innovation will increase prestige.

4.6 Perceived Critical Mass
We can say that the technology is likely to be interactive, as it is meant to support group work. for interactive technologies, they are more likely to be adopted if enough other people have already adopted the technology. For example, instant messenger is only useful if there are others who have already adopted it with whom you can chat and with whom you would like to chat.

5. Specific guidance for the firm to ensure a high level of adoption
Based on the extensive base of literature on this subject, there are some things that a firm can do to ensure a high level of adoption.

5.1 Make sure the technology fits with the existing culture and is compatible with the existing workflows or take additional steps to change the culture.
If the innovation does not fit with the way the employees work and collaborate, it will most likely fail. If it works with the way they work, and makes their work faster and easier, then it will likely succeed.

5.2 Invite opinion leaders to trial the technology first, seek their feedback, and involve them in the development process.
If opinion leaders within the organization have adopted the innovation, then others will be able to observe how the technology is used and will have more data upon which to make decisions based on relative advantage and perceived usefulness. Opinion leaders are often respected, and others will want to adopt the innovation in imitation of these employees. Additionally, having a few adopters using the tool when wider implementation [is] rolled out means a shorter time to critical mass.

5.2 Create a development site and allow the employees to "play" with the system with little or no risk.
Trialability is very important to ensure high levels of adoption. If new users can create accounts in a development environment, or can practice in a "sandbox" area, then they will feel more comfortable using the production system.

5.3 Enable legitimate peripheral participants
Make sure that some portion of the tool is available outside of the teams who are using it to collaborate. The information the teams share might not be available for employees outside of the team for various reasons, but potential adopters need to see the benefits of the tool prior to adoption.

5.3 Consider providing motivations such as incentives for participating or disincentives for not participating.
Disincentives should be considered carefully before using, but for late adopters or laggards, there might have to be some deadline after which other systems are not available or there are disincentives for not using the current system.

6. Conclusion
There is a great deal of literature studying how firms can best implement an acquired technology for group work such that there will be a high level of adoption. In this essay, I've addressed what adoption looks like, how to characterize diffusion and how to measure it, factors that encourage or discourage adoption, and provided some suggestions to firms to ensure a high level of adoption.

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