Editor's Desk

Agencies should not fear being early adopters

You know the type, even if you aren’t one: The person who stood in line for the release of the iPhone, then found a way to unlock it and switch carriers. Or the guy who pulls out his second-generation Kindle reader when you show off your first BlackBerry. Or anyone who thinks Twitter is so last year.

The early adopters among us can be a pain in the neck sometimes, if only because what is so obvious to them remains so alien to us. But the fact is, we sit on opposite sides of the cost/benefit ratio.

According to a theory formulated by communications scholar Everett Rogers in the 1960s, Early Adopters (his term) embrace new technology before most other people do. He said they make up 13.5 percent of the population. They are not the most daring, however; that role belongs to a select minority — 1 in 40 — he called Innovators. The rest of us can be lumped into descending groups of Laggards or, worse, Luddites (not his term). Laggards are slow to jump aboard because of initial disinterest or pocketbook constraints. Luddites run away from new technology, especially if they think it might threaten existing jobs.

But as contributing writer John Moore shows in this week’s cover story, there is nothing to fear and much to gain by adopting some of the characteristics of the early adopter mind-set. Key among them, it seems to me, is the notion that technological innovation is not the actual objective. “Some enterprises make the mistake of grasping for a technology solution before they analyze the problem they need to solve,” John writes, citing the example of Aneesh Chopra, Virginia's secretary of technology, a classic Early Adopter who believes that service-sector innovation must come first, technology second.

These days, the social-media phenomenon called Web 2.0 is all the rage among early adopters in the government technology realm. Some fascinating experiments are occurring in and around various government agencies, as evidenced by several winners of our own Federal 100 Awards. But there are risks in moving too fast, says columnist Michael Lisagor, including serious security and privacy questions, and executives need to take heed of them — “not to slow things down but to make sure this new exciting step forward succeeds.”

Also in this week’s issue, we introduce a new regular feature named “Topic A.” This is where we will provide in-depth coverage and ongoing news analysis on emerging issues that dominate the news but don’t always get adequate explanations. This week and in weeks to follow, that topic is health information technology. Staff reporter Mary Mosquera turns the spotlight on the new urgency of creating standards for electronic health records and related applications. The economic stimulus law provides billions of dollars for this long-sought goal but also a deadline imperative. All of this means, of course, that even well-meaning Laggards must assume the can’t-wait traits of Early Adopters.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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Reader comments

Mon, May 4, 2009 Marty Nemzow Miami

I liked yuor topic about early adopters and your callout quote, but fundamentally disagree on the conclusion. The onus on pushing the agenda for early adoption (e.g. change) falls squarely on the technical geek who must communicate a rationale to overcome cultural, technical, and cover-your-ass traditionalism. No matter the job role and position in the organizational hierarchy, the failure to communicate invalidates even the best technical advice. Any failure to make a point that resonates with a decision-maker is a basic failure for that job role. Making change is job 1.

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