IT can be the catalyst for change and transformation in many organizations. But unfortunately too many projects are abandoned, flounder or downright fail completely, missing the mark. When I think about change or transformation, I envision four zones that we must navigate through: Status Quo, Disruption, Adoption, and Transformation.

I’ve long believed that where IT projects all too often fail is not in the disruption zone where the new change or technology is introduced but rather during adoption. Many projects never make it through the adoption zone to begin true transformation.

Think for a moment of how many IT projects you’ve brought to the business (a new ERP, CRM, phone system, contact center, or a plethora of new SaaS-based offerings) only to get the “yes” from the business line unit leaders, you craft the implementation plan, you bring the innovation to your organization, you get it implemented and available, and then… you hit a wall. A BIG wall.

That’s because as IT leaders we can be so focused on getting innovation off the ground, that we forget our real responsibility is to move our teams—and business users—swiftly through the disruption, adoption, and finally the transformation zone.

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Someone who knows a great deal about these pains (and how to reach success!) is my good friend Suma Gaddam, CIO at Care New England, whose mission is to be your partner in health while creating a healthier community of people. I had the chance to catch up with Suma the other day to pick her brain…

Me: As an IT leader, it’s imperative to identify what needs changing so you can help your organization challenge the past and drive innovation. How do you as an IT leader determine when the status quo needs to be challenged?

Suma: I believe there’s a lot of hidden opportunity in businesses to derive value and do things well, and if you dig deep enough you can spend a lifetime looking at how to improve things. As a CIO, you can’t do everything—as much as you want to—so it’s about asking what value propositions can you can bring to your business, pinpointing what you are trying to achieve and being very clear about all of that when you start talking about initiating change.

As a CIO, you cannot just say, ‘I am going to address things only when the system breaks.’ Conversely, you have to really understand the business processes and transactions and spot the opportunities for improvement or growth that the business is not yet telling you about. You should understand and see the opportunities before someone brings them up.

Me: And once you pinpoint the opportunity, how do you teach your team to realize that IT’s impact doesn’t just end after disruption and adoption? It needs to carry over to transformation as well.

Suma: The actual journey begins at adoption and realizing the desired business outcome cannot happen without the appropriate level of adoption. Unfortunately, many IS professionals believe that their responsibilities finish at the end of the disruption or cut-over. The adoption zone represents the biggest opportunity for an IS organization looking into the future because that stage leads to the future. There is a switch in the way IS sees their role within an organization that needs to happen… IS teams need to begin positioning themselves to be the adoption coaches, the workflow facilitators and the value proposition experts.

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In order to do that, you have to understand where the business is with the product versus where they intend to be. You have to be able to visualize the business outcome and put into motion an action plan to get there. That’s the “elephant” in the room that we don’t discuss enough: “How do we get from install to transformation and beyond what role each member of the team is going to play to get to the end game successfully?” Adoption is about picking the right technology up front, determining how intuitive it is from a user interface perspective and finding the right vendor that makes the technology easy to use. Adoption and transformation stages are crucial and this is where IS teams have the most opportunity to engage on a much different plane to bring business users together to realize the value of an investment.

Me: Why does the move from adoption to transformation seem to fail all too often?

Suma: Adoption usually fails around the points of transition, or the points of handoff. When you look at a business process, you observe various silos and don’t always have a clear understanding of what “bridges” and “tools” are available for the process handoffs to occur seamlessly. Different business units are trying to use the same technology but people don’t intuitively work together or talk to each other for the process to work seamlessly. They also don’t tend to address the issues when something doesn’t work as expected, because presumably it takes them away from doing their day-day work. When we design technology or change processes, we must facilitate conversations around handoffs particularly to highlight and educate the end-users as to what role they play in the handoff process and what happens when the handoffs do not occur as designed—both upstream and downstream with in a specific process. IS has the ability to bring these users together, show results, share the metrics and ensure that the handoffs are seamless and expedited, which helps with adoption and gets you to the path of transformation quicker.

Me: How can we work to help our employees embrace transformation?

Suma: The move from adoption to transformation often fails because of a people challenge—in most organizations we will find employees who are either resistant to change because of the fear of “the unknown impacts of what the change will bring to their work/life.” They are interested in desperately holding on to the status quo zone even though the new technology has been delivered, the one that promises a brave new transformation, ready to be embraced and adopted. In other instances, we have employees who do not have an understanding of the value proposition of the transformation. No one explained why the change was needed, how that change impacts them on a personal level, what knowledge and skills gap they will need to overcome, and how their role is transformed in the end in achieving the shared goal or outcome. With so much at stake, employees are fearful of the change, the adoption and transformation. But IS holds a unique key to adoption and eventually transformation. We have the ability to be the facilitators of the change; the torch bearers to help shed the light on what the transformation would look like and help users overcome their resistance to a certain degree. We can help align the technology to the business process, and we can eliminate organizational barriers, thereby mitigating adoption barriers. Leadership is a critical ingredient for transformation to happen.

Me: You’ve identified IS as being a major solution to the adoption-transformation problem. But how do you ensure you have the right people on your team to be the “adoption coaches,” as you say?

Suma: It’s all about people. I really believe that one person cannot do all of it, so the more people you have who adopt and embrace those principles, the greater your likelihood of success. So search for top talent within IT and across the organization to be those coaches. Ask yourself, ‘Who are the people I would put on my team?’ And once you find them, engage with them and help them buy into the future. Help them see what you are envisioning through the transformational change. Teach them, give them opportunities to interact with the business users and encourage them to learn. The transformation will go quickly with the right preparation, planning and people.

Me: How else can you keep momentum going once adoption takes place?

Suma: Keep in mind, that when it comes to adoption and transformation, the organization has a finite time or attention span for a specific transformational initiative. Soon they will want to focus on something else—the new shiny object or the next big business initiative. So the end game of an initiative should be specifically defined upfront leading the organization to transformation, and not stop at adoption. Create steering committees or groups focused on measuring and monitoring and ensuring that this transformation happens. Orchestrate the data group that will tell users what is working and not. Form the business transformation group that will help achieve that transformation. If you don’t move people to transformation quickly, the team disbands and there is disillusionment about value proposition and benefit realization, so create sustainability teams that will carry your organization forward.

Me: I know I said five questions but I am throwing a BONUS one at you! What can we as IT/IS leaders to better prepare our teams for this new era?

Suma: As an IS leader, it’s important to lead your organization and your team into the new world. The conversations are already there in the industry with regards to the changing role of the CIO, where IT organizations will be in the future and how they will perform and function. You can choose to have your team either be behind the curve or ahead of the transformation curve and you can choose to lead your organization there.