Treat tech the way you treat people

Douglas Brown is an academic program manager in Post University’s MBA program and director of the university’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

It remains to be seen how new budget legislation will affect federal IT programs. But one thing is certain: IT decision-makers won’t be immune from the pressure to cut spending and ensure that every new investment delivers a worthwhile return.

Should a new technology initiative fail to immediately achieve its promise, decision-makers can expect to face criticism. However, that backlash is often misplaced because it might not be the technology that’s letting you down but rather your process for incorporating it into your organization.

You could increase the likelihood of success by adopting some of the tried-and-true concepts for hiring new employees. Organizations have a well-defined process for determining what new hires will do, identifying the right person for the job (based on current skills and potential), and providing training and support. Several of those components could improve the acquisition and deployment of new technology.

Here’s my recommended approach.

1. Identify a need. Create a “job description” for the new technology that goes beyond technical specifications. The new team member must also be flexible, have the ability to solve unforeseen problems, and most important, work well with others and fit into your culture. Have a clear idea about how the technology will be integrated into your organization, and identify obstacles that could reduce the chances for success. Then evaluate what’s available, and separate the qualified offerings from the unqualified ones, just as you would if you were evaluating résumés.

2. Set clear expectations. Users expect technology to perform at full capacity from the moment it’s implemented. When it doesn’t, users often deem it a bad choice, and the organization might even eliminate it. But as you would with a new employee, allow time for a learning curve and break-in period. Setting expectations for users and others affected by the technology is a key part of the process. Let them know what they can do to help the new technology succeed. Expect some speed bumps, and manage them just as you would for a new employee.

3. Train and reinforce. A common misstep for organizations is the implementation of new technology without adequate training for users and anyone else affected by the technology. When something doesn’t work as expected, users assume it’s a technological error. Therefore, it’s crucial to hold training sessions that reinforce and build on users’ knowledge. That approach helps employees learn to use the technology to meet their needs and helps keep training sessions focused and productive. Also consider the value of nontechnical super users — people within key user communities who become experts and advocate for new systems.

4. Review performance. Assess the technology’s performance after 30 to 90 days to determine if it is addressing your needs. Are you hitting your adoption benchmarks? What feedback are you getting from users? Identify what you’ve been able to achieve, what issues are outstanding and whether you’re on track to meet your goals. If the technology passes your review, consider new ways to build on what you’ve accomplished.

5. Use a performance improvement plan. If the technology fails to deliver its promised return on investment, determine what can be done to make it meet your needs before abandoning it. Consider the process you would use to help an underperforming employee meet expectations.

By approaching your technology acquisition and implementation process the way you do a new hire, you can better ensure you’re making the right decision from the outset, thereby avoiding losses and positioning your organization for long-term success.

About the Author

Douglas Brown is an academic program manager in Post University’s MBA program and director of the university’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He blogs at and can be reached at

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Fri, Aug 26, 2011

Nice sentiment, but the reality is that they will treat Tech just like they treat People: Badly.

Fri, Aug 26, 2011

Interesting concept - sounds good. In 40 plus years working in DoD haven't seen it applied yet. It all comes down to who can accomplish the largest sucking sound to those in a position to select. Most new hire names are know before the announcement even hits to apply. Last three GS-13 hires went to former secretaries with no prior technical, managerial or supervisor experience but the GM15 sees himself as a stud.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group