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How to implement new technologies in companies

We live in a time when more and more companies are bringing innovative products on to the market, which are substituting solutions that were once thought to be indispensable. Let’s take a look at the e-mail. It revolutionized communication in companies, because it is much faster and less expensive than a letter. But people must be willing to let this innovation into their lives. How do you help a new technology make a breakthrough?

Technology means change

The e-mail is already being threatened by messenger services such as Slack or Microsoft Team. Such changes cannot be stopped. But new technologies that establish themselves must be accepted by a certain amount of people. In order for them to be accepted, they must provide sufficient benefits, solve problems that make life easier or quite simply be fun. The exciting question is: how do people discover the benefits of a solution that they aren’t even familiar with yet? That is actually quite simple: by allowing them to have new experiences.

“Not another new tool again!”

We know these statements, which are first connected with rejection. Sometimes we even say them ourselves. And nevertheless, we use more and more digital tools for our everyday work lives. Because we have recognized that they are helpful, make work easier for us, support communication and reduce organizational work. Some software disappears again, while some has come to stay. It’s just like working out: the beginning is not very easy, but once you take the first steps, you can soon experience the first signs of success. Then it gets easier and easier and you no longer want to stop. It may also be helpful to take small steps with the implementation of new digital updates. Because a new technology does not have to completely replace an old one, they are usually used parallel to each other. Despite the drastically increased e-mail volumes, faxes and letters are still sent today. And despite sophisticated video conference systems, a few colleagues prefer to use a telephone. 

Overcoming the “Death Valley” of innovation

Hype Cycle

The subjectively perceived relevance of innovative solutions normally runs through phases as shown by the Gartner Hype Cycle: Initially the euphoria and joy of experiencing something new dominates. But that is followed shortly by what Gartner calls the “Trough of Disillusionment”. The initial expectations for the innovation are inevitably let down, because they are often set too high. Now it is time to try out the solution using real application cases. This is the only way to see what is possible and what is not. Once the Valley of Disappointment has been overcome, the innovation will become normality and thereby reaches the “Plateau of Productivity”. It goes without saying that the Valley of Disappointment in the corporate context can only be achieved through comprehensive communication, integration of the corresponding employees as well as complimentary training.

Start with the innovators

People are different and that is what makes up an organization. The different personalities in interdisciplinary teams compliment each other to work towards a mutual goal. This also means that some new features are easier to deal with than others. Everett M. Rogers worked out the different types in his diffusion theory in which he describes the implementation of innovations as a social process. This may be with reference to the free market, but the model can be transposed to internal corporate change processes such as the implementation of new software.

Innovation Adaption Curve

Innovators welcome new features with open arms. They are curious, like to experiment and enjoy developing new ideas.

Early adopters also accept new features early on, but they also want to find out the benefits of this. They have the important function of a multiplier.

Early majority refers to the people who accept an innovation or change when there are clear benefits as a result and the “teething troubles” have already been taken care of.

Late majority refers to the passive people who will only accept new features once it is proven that there are no more new features left.

Laggards are skeptics who initially reject any type of change. They are only willing to accept change if it would otherwise result in a social disadvantage for them.

At WeAre, we have adapted the Rogers model to fit virtual reality technology. You can take a little test to find out if you belong to the VR innovators or the VR skeptics: https://check.weare-rooms.com.

Procedure to implement a new technology

Software used to be implemetned when the management saw the benefits it had for the company. If and how well the employees could work with it played more of a subordinate role. Now the top-down principle is becoming obsolete as hierarchies are breaking up and more and more network structures are finding their way. The willingness to accept new technologies cannot be demanded, but rather an attempt is made to encourage people to discover something new. If the implementation of a new technology is requried to remain competitive, intelligent communication is needed.

Experience technology

Initially, employees must be given the possibility to try out new technologies. Workshops are perfect for this. They can discover the advantages of the new technology, make comparisons with previous solutions and, ideally, test the technology directly all while accompanied by technical experts. Depending on the company culture, the impulse can come from the team or from a manager. If the head of the product development department determines, for example, that virtual reality could have benefits for their employees, they can suggest a workshop. If the first experiences are positive, the result may be a pilot project. It has proven useful to initially center the project to a clear unit. Depending on the size of the company, this may be the entire department or a few volunteers form the team.

Define goals and develop use cases

Goals have a central importance for digitalization projects. What should be achieved with the technology? Savings in costs? Savings in time? Better communication? Optimization of the error rate? Improvement of the carbon footprint? The reasons may be diverse and should be evaluated during the first workshop. Because innovative projects often fail if the participants do not know the “why”. The “Golden Circle” from Simon Sinek may be of some help here. The “Why”, meaning the purpose or the higher goal of a project, is in the center of this circle allowing all participants to identify themselves with. The middle circle stands for “How”, therefore the manner in which the goal can be reached and the “What” is found in the outer circle – this includes concrete things that contribute to achieving the goal. At the end of the process, the application areas should be clear and the key performance indices used to measure success should also be defined.

The Golden Circle

Eliminate barriers

With every technical innovation, the targeted users ask themselves if they really need the offered solution. Because this is often affiliated with a change that you usually want to avoid in the beginning. That is also one of the reasons why some projects prematurely stopped. Yes, that is bitter reality. This gap can be partially overcome with training where all participants get to know the functions and possibilities of the innovation and can practice usage. And: if the goal is to examine a solution to see if it is suitable for practical purposes, it must also be used in practice. Using a virtual reality conference as an example, we can no longer say: “The customer wants a preliminary result, send him the CAD drawing as a PDF,” but rather: “The customer wants a preliminary result, show him the model in VR.” Maybe it sounds simple, but you first have to be aware of such processes to overcome habits – and to get out of your comfort zone.

Example: Implementation of a virtual reality conference solution

Let us go through the implementation of a new technology using a concrete example. Because such a process can essentially be divided into phases that are always similar.

Recognize challenge

The members in a product development team have to work together spread out over different locations. In a very early phase, this still works well with modern CAD programs, however, the closer the team gets to prototyping and including external stakeholders in the process, the more difficult it becomes. New prototypes have to be planned, created and sent for each step of development. These adjustments are often affiliated with personal meetings, which in turn leads to high travel and opportunity costs. 

Discover solutions

A team member at a trade fair discovers a virtual reality solution that can be used to visualize complex CAD data. Since this employee likes to deal with new technologies, this is nothing unusual for them. But then he understands that it is a conference solution where people at different locations can access spatially represented CAD models together. He reports to his boss about this and shows the application possibilities in an online demo. He in turn recognizes that he could forgo a few prototypes if he presented realistic 3D models to the stakeholders in the future instead of physical prototypes.

Integrate the team

During the next team meeting, the head of product development reports on their initial impressions and offers to invite the virtual reality conference provider to a workshop so all team members can try out the solution without commitment. At this point, we are not yet dealing with a concrete plan, but rather just a hands-on experience. The workshop is held and most of the team members think the experience is interesting. Now it is time to stick to it! The head of the department suggests a pilot project to evaluate the possibilities of the VR conference. However, one employee expresses his doubt, because he thought the VR application was interesting, but he cannot envision how it should work in practice.

Evaluate use cases

Even if the team members are not familiar with the potential areas of application of the VR conference, they cannot yet really envision using it in practice. That is why it is recommended to hold a workshop before a possible pilot project where the potential areas of use can be compared with the team’s work routine. The VR software provider is invited to a workshop for this. 

At the end of the workshop, the team members will have created a basic strategy for a pilot project. In the center is “Why”: “We want to quickly convince our business partners with easily comprehensible 3D drafts.” That is followed by “How”: “We will only present development updates in the VR conference.” That “What” is divided into three points in this example:

  • We provide our business partners with a VR set to allow them to work together in VR.
  • We perform a design review in the VR with the business partners every 14 days to reduce the number of on-site appointments.
  • We produce the prototypes much later on to reduce the time and costs needed

The KPI can be derived on this basis as well: this deals with the expenses for on-site appointments (number), the costs for prototypes and the complete lead time of the project.

Implement pilots

All project participants feel significantly more comfortable with this basic strategy. Because they now know exactly what they are doing and what has to be tested. Some more information about the hardware and software is needed to start:

  • How many sites will be equipped?
  • Which facilities are used for this?
  • How many users per site will there be?
  • How many VR sets will be needed?

A project manager contacts the provider of the VR conference solution with this information, who in turn will take care of providing the hardware and software.

Use technology

To ensure that all designated users actually use the software, they will receive training at the beginning of the pilot project. Luckily, the software is so intuitive and clear that a short introduction is sufficient to understand how to use it. The head of the department, however, is aware that real experiences are needed to get used to this new type of communication spread out over multiple sites. That is why the first meetings are initially only internal: In addition to this, there will be a few workshops in the VR to make the participants comfortable with the method, because remote meetings require special sensitivity, for example, in presentation. The business partner will also be invited to these workshops, because they will also work together with the company in the virtual reality conference.

When one pilot ends, another one starts

When is a pilot project considered successful? Simply put, when the KPIs have improved compared to the time before. The goals of digitalization projects may indeed not reach the dimensions initially desired, however, the project is a success as long as there is a palpable improvement. In addition to this very close observation, the meta-perspective must also be considered. True to the motto: “One small step for the pilot team, one giant leap for the company.” In the end, the objective is always to improve the general competitiveness of the company. To keep up with new developments and to forward the society as a whole. Because there have also been pilot projects that came to the conclusion: “E-mails are stupid, nobody will want to use the internet anyway.” And that is allowed. Trial and error – those are the drivers of progress. This applies in the digital age more than ever before.

Sources: 

Article: Digital Helper for the Collaboration. HumanResourcesManager
Article: How virtual reality helps large companies with production planning. c’t
Article: E-mail. Wikipedia
Article: Change management, Wikipedia
Article: Software roll-out. Wikipedia 
Article: Diffusion theory, Wikipedia
Article: What communication tools want to challenge the e-mail, trade journal
Article: 8 processes and tools for more creativity and productivity. product-related
Whitepaper: Bridging the death valley of innovation, diffferent 
Statistics: E-mails sent in Germany per year from 2000-2018, Statista 
Statistic: Letters sent in Germany per year from 1998-2017, Statista
Video: Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire others to act, youtube
Podcast: The Trojan principle for digital change. nuboRadio

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written by
David Frühauf & Bernhard Schaefermeyer
David and Bernhard developed the concept. Bernhard was responsible for the research, the editorial work, and the rough draft. David transferred the text into the final version. (Translation: TextMaster)

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