Beverly: If you build it, will they come?

During the past 20 years, some researchers in the academic and commercial worlds have studied patterns of information technology diffusion, which refers to the percentage of people who willingly use a method or tool to process information.

Studying IT diffusion is important to academicians because technology has historically affected social and economic dynamics. From the Industrial Revolution to the advent of microcomputers, technological change has influenced how people work, where they live and what type of education they pursue.

Two researchers, Fred Davis and Geert Hofstede, have made significant contributions. Davis' contribution was the Technical Acceptance Model. It is a causal model that assesses the independent effects of external factors on technology acceptance and usage in the workplace. It seeks to predict how users' attitudes influence system usage. Studies using this model indicate that the ease of use (the degree to which a person believed that using a particular system would be free of physical and mental efforts) and usefulness (the degree to which a person believed that using a particular system enhanced job performance) were the best predictors of how widely IT would be disseminated.

Hofstede's contribution was a study of the cultural issues that help determine how people accept new technology. He determined that standards and attitudes color perceptions of a technology's value.

By combining their findings, one can conclude that people embrace information technologies that are:

Efficient — they require minimal mental and physical exertion.

Effective — they produce the desired outcome.

Environmentally safe — they are transparent, innocuous and complementary to the organization's culture.

There are three implications for how agencies deploy IT. To be effective, agencies should:

Ensure that applications and systems are business efficient so that they produce the maximum quantity of information while minimizing cost and schedule risks; technically efficient so that they produce the maximum quantity of information while minimizing resources and execution time; and user efficient so that users can produce the maximum quantity of work with the minimum amount of effort and in the shortest time possible.

Launch initiatives to manage scope, communications, quality and risks.

Explore and document the organizational value chain, and learn which applications and systems are appropriate for each function. Segregating the strategic and operational applications will make them palatable to various communities of interest and practice.

So if you build it, will they come? The answer is, "It depends." IT diffusion efforts are more likely to succeed if they meet the approval of decision-makers but do not change the users' world. Such projects should be offered as accessible, usable and productive. Especially for government agencies, the trick is finding ways of introducing new technologies throughout the bureaucracy without being stifled by the decision-making structure.

Beverly, a 20-year information technology professional, is a software architect and team leader with BAE Systems IT.

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