There have been early adopters for as long as there has been new technology. Surely, when the first wheel was rolled out in 3000 BC, just a handful of Mesopotamians had enough insight and risk tolerance to give it a whirl while others looked on from a safe distance.
Not much has changed. That brave soul willing to embrace The New still sits in the same spot on the bell curve that Everett Rogers drew up back in 1962 to denote what he called the “diffusion of innovation” – just after the innovator but well before the early majority, the late majority and the laggards.
But within corporate IT, watching early adopters as they stumble isn’t necessarily the safest course anymore. The pace of technology change has increased so much that corporate IT leaders who don’t embrace emerging trends at some level risk ending up behind the competition. Gartner produced 70 “hype cycle” documents (analyses of new technology adoption trends) covering 1500 new technologies last year.
What’s more, it’s easier than ever to take new technologies for a test drive.
“Sometimes you can do it in your office in an afternoon,” says Matt Brown, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. “You can set up accounts and test out some new collaborative technology in a matter of hours before making a full commitment to it.”
Some emerging technologies, such as Google Apps, the iPhone and many open-source applications don’t even require a full enterprise-wide rollout – at least not in the old, big-bang fashion – to get real value out of their implementation. Then there’s the fact that anyone, not just people in the IT department, can try out the latest tools, whether or not CIOs sanction them.
Adoption of new technologies has spiked as IT has evolved from the complex tools, centralised systems and transaction-based software to the lightweight tools, abundant information and ubiquitous network-centric software that’s taking over the marketplace today, says Brown. As a result, early adoption of emerging technology is no longer limited to technology-centric companies or those with pockets deep enough to absorb the risk. CIOs in industries ranging from healthcare to car manufacturing see piloting and testing lesser-proven technologies as a critical part of their role.
“Ten years ago, CIOs spent a lot of time getting transactional systems – the giant stuff – in place,” says Robert Urwiler, CIO of Vail Resorts.
“But that’s not so much the job anymore. CIOs have more freedom to explore innovative ways to provide business transformation and more freedom to look around at emerging technologies. I feel like I have an obligation to do that.”
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