Adoption of sourcing technology – ease of use.

Organisations spend millions of dollars on technology implementations. It has been seen that many projects fail within one year of implementation. In a recently issued study report from the World Economic Forum 2010-2011, Sweden and Singapore continue to dominate the rankings, whereas Malaysia ranks 28th and Oman stands only 41st in terms of technological savvy nations. One of the reasons for this could be lack of adoption of new technologies within the organisation.

Employees using a new software system exhibit steep learning curves and resistance to change which is evident from the large percentage of organisations feeling their ability to deal with change being poor. Most of the time this failure can be attributed to a lack of communication between the decision maker (which in our case, would be the CPO or the VP procurement) and the end user(buying manager, buyers etc.). The point being, that such an environment is not conducive for effective software implementation.

Procurement technology solutions have also not been immune to adoption failure. Let’s take a look at a case study.

An $11 billion organisation had in place an existing eSourcing solution from a major solution provider. The investment for the same was close to $ 100,000 and there were 100 user licences which had been purchased. After a Post implementation review it was observed that there existed only 5 active users of the application whilst 95% remained inactive indicating lack of adoption amongst the users. More importantly, what was not considered was the comfort level of the suppliers who would be an important end user of the sourcing solution. Suppliers would not respond to RFIs created within the tool citing it to be too complex and would send in quotes through excel documents making evaluation almost impossible and tedious.

This post will explore the major challenges involved in adoption and how an organisation can use four strategies to overcome the adoption challenges and ensure acceptance of the eSourcing solution by the end users.

Challenges Faced!

Before I discuss the ways to increase procurement technology adoption within organisations, let us look into what are the major challenges that organisations face with respect to procurement technology adoption.

The first and foremost challenge is to deal with the resistance to change. Even when organisational members recognise that a specific change would be beneficial, they often fall prey to the gap between knowing something and actually doing it.

The second reason can be attributed to the complexity of technology which detracts the end user since it requires acquiring new technological knowledge and skills. Complex features may sound great in product demonstrations and data sheets but become a bane to adoption at the ground level.

The third reason could be a lack of visibility into benefits of the software post implementation. It’s important to note here that a benefit needs to be expressed in the parlance of the end user. The end user needs to see how the technology will benefit him in his job. In short what is the take away for him?

So how does one overcome these challenges? Here I would like to draw your attention to what I want to call the “For Ease Strategies” of efficient user adoption. These are – Ease of Use, ease of user Involvement during evaluation, ease of Training and Adoption and finally ease of Metrics & Incentives. Let us look into each of these “ease strategies” and the role they play in overcoming the challenges.

Overcoming challenges to procurement technology adoption is the key to ensure that an organisation reaps the benefits from their implementation. In this section I will discuss the importance of having the right strategy to overcome the adoption challenges.

Strategy 1. Ease of Use

As discussed earlier, complexity of technology was one of the major reasons for lack of adoption. This is where having a technology which is easy to use goes a long way in fostering acceptance among the end users. Let’s consider a very simple example here.
Consider an i-Phone or i-Pad as an innovation which although loaded with several sophisticated features is extremely easy to use for the end users leading to quick and higher adoption levels. Ease of use of course should not be at the cost of functionality.

Organisations should work on achieving a balance between satisfying all key core requirements and enhancing the user experience. While talking of ease of use, it is of utmost importance to speak from the perspective of the end users. Technology vendors and decision makers often confuse what is naturally easy for them as ease of use when discussing software.

Organisations must ensure that the new technology that they are planning to implement shall be easy to use not just for the stakeholders but the eventual users of the solution who will use it day in and day out. Technology must make things simpler for the end user.

Features need to be mapped with the needs within the organisation rather than looking at solutions which have the maximum number of features which don’t really satisfy the inherent needs in the process.

Strategy 2. User involvement

User involvement goes a long way in overcoming adoption challenges. User involvement can be accomplished by involving the end user in the initial stages of the software selection process. Users can be involved in the product demonstration process, which would help in conveying the benefits of the product to the end user for e.g. Using the ‘drag & drop’ feature within e-sourcing can be used to set up complex events in just minutes ensuring 100% category coverage. Demonstrating this to an end user will help convince him/her to create all events within the solution.

This process can now be followed up by a pilot process involving the end user. This would further convince the end user regarding the benefits by understanding how a particular feature directly benefits him in his work process.

Once the user receives a hands-on demonstration of the tool’s capabilities, make sure to have a feedback about the experience. Such an activity would ensure greater buy-in from the end user and also considerably reduce the objections arising post implementation.

Strategy 3. Training

Training should be arranged both pre and post implementation.. The training can be conducted by a variety of means . Combining periodic on-site training with regular feature level training provided online in the form of user sessions, webinars etc. is the most effective way of achieving user adoption goals. It is recommended to have the vendors / Suppliers involved at every stage of training to ensure a constant communication between the end user and the trainer.

Ideally there should be a training council formed comprising of members from both the vendor / Supplier and organisation. Once the training is conducted organisations can also look at conducting product knowledge tests and quizzes. This has dual benefits;

1. Makes the end user more responsible
2. Helps in judging the effectiveness of the training sessions

Strategy 4.

Once the technology has been implemented, top management needs to sit with the end user and decide on how to measure the performance of the end user. Including the end user in setting performance goals inculcates a lot of responsibility and accountability among the end users. Organisations must ensure setting fair, consistent and rigid goals which are transparent in every sense. I offer an example of how this could be accomplished.

Example 1. Consider an organisation who has just implemented an eSourcing solution. Suppose the organisation has 50 sourcing events scheduled to take place in the year. One of the check points could be to see how many of these sourcing events were channeled through the eSourcing platform. With deliberation organisations can set a goal of 80% of the sourcing events to be conducted through the e-sourcing platform.

Or another example

Example 2. If an organisation enters into say 100 contracts in a year, one of the objectives would be to have say 90% of contracts under the contract management system.

Once the objectives have been set by deliberation with the end user, the next logical step could be to link the incentives of the users with the objectives set. A simple incentive can be percentage sharing of the savings achieved from implementation of the solution. These can be benchmarked with similar numbers before the software was implemented to derive the results or direct benefits from the solution implementation.

Managing Change.

A learning orientation is critical during implementation stages. This brings us to the next point which is concerned with managing change. In order to successfully manage the change process, I recommend the following four steps:-

Inform

Brief the end user about the new technology and involve the end user in the evaluation stages.

Educate

Educate the end user about the product in the form of product training, workshops (video, onsite etc), webinars etc.

Monitor

Devise mutually accepted metrics for measuring the performance of the end user post implementation.

Reward

Linking the objectives with incentives, with disbursement of incentives related to the objective met.

Conclusion

Companies must do away with persuasion and edict as part of technology implementation and adoption processes since both involve little or no user input in decisions regarding implementation and adoption. Also, change management is the key to ensure buy-ins from the various related stakeholders thus ensuring benefits from the technology implementations.

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