“information technology-no matter how powerful-is ‘merely’ an enabler. You can wire yourself up until you are blue in the face (and broke)&but in the end it’s a people game.”

-Tom Peters

Technology is here to stay, but it is changing everyday. Whether you are upgrading to XP, switching e-mail programs, bringing new accounting software into your office or implementing enterprise-wide applications, integrating new technology into your business is no easy task. While most organizations are quick to ensure that the system gets up and running, less effort is expended to ensure that the people who have to use the system are ready, willing and able to use it. To encourage and prepare your organization to adopt new technology, use this five-point plan to help identify what you can do to take action.

1. Prepare Leaders to Lead the Transition

While leaders are busy and generally have neither the time nor inclination to know the nitty-gritty of a technology project, their support is critical – and their understanding of the impact that new technology brings can spell success or failure. Provide an executive overview for leaders, not only covering the return on investment, but also explaining how the initiative supports their business goals, the impact it will have on the organization and their role in providing guidance, supplying resources and making critical decisions quickly. And most importantly, leverage leaders to communicate – to shift the organizational discussion from a technology project to a business initiative that supports the vision and mission of the organization.

2. Jump Start Your Project Team

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Most technology initiatives require the time and effort of a cross-functional team to make them successful. Whether your team is your IT person, a lawyer and an accountant in a small law firm, or a team of 30 from across a large organization, it is important to clearly identify your project objectives, pinpoint your potential hurdles and set up an infrastructure for managing the project. Equally important is to outline communication and decision making responsibilities, as well as define your measures of success and how you will track them throughout the project. Larger teams may want to take it a step further and develop a team charter that outlines roles and responsibilities and defines the rules of engagement. Workshops with “type” tools such as the MBTI, DISC or SDI can help build increased awareness of team diversity and how to better work together. With a little effort, your project team can have a head start in the right direction.

3. Help Managers Make it Happen

Managers have a critical role in supporting technology adoption. No matter how large or small the organization, new technology often means new ways of doing business. And while leaders are communicating and supporting the new direction, managers are making it happen. As such, building managers’ awareness of the new technology and its functionality is critical. Understanding the new technology will help them to identify how it will change jobs and processes and prepare them to deal with critical issues around productivity and staffing, as well as new roles, competencies and work processes.

4. Get Your Users on Board

Users are notorious for resisting new technology. Why do people resist? Could be anything – from a loss of control and a feeling of incompetence to fear, habit or just plain annoyance. The thing is, people usually resist for good reason. This classic problem played itself out in my own family. My Dad constantly changed the computer with new programs. My Mom only used e-mail, but got a different interface every time she turned on the computer. She ended up getting a second computer that he is not allowed to touch. While Dad saw the benefits of the changes and knew how to navigate the new environment, Mom didn’t. All she saw was unnecessary change with no instructions for how to do what she wanted. Don’t let this happen to your users.

First, identify what they need to know and communicate it. Why new technology? Why now? What’s going to change? What’s in it for them? How will it affect them? What do they need to do? What’s happening now and what is going to happen next? People don’t want to learn something new if they don’t see the direct benefits to them. Tell them.

Second, ensure you’ve provided training on the new system. For a small organization, this may be sending your staff to a Quickbooks or ACT class; for a larger organization, this can be a much more complex process that would include a training needs analysis and a training plan. No matter the size, you’ll need to decide what people will need training and how you will conduct that training. Whatever you decide, just don’t decide to skip it. Get your users on board with an understanding of the technology’s importance to the business and the know-how to put the tool to good use.

5. Ensure Support is There For You

While much effort is expended to get a new system running, it is just as important to ensure you have a plan for support. Who will be your help desk? Will people seek out the consultant who just left or the “super-user” who already has another job? Often, whoever seems to know what they are doing first or best becomes the informal de facto help desk. This can be quite a burden. Define and communicate your plan for who users call with technical (I am getting errors) and functional (how do I enter a purchase order) problems. And, of course, ensure your support team is trained and ready to support your new system.

New technology can certainly be money well spent, but it’s the people using the technology that are going to bring you the return on investment you are seeking. Now’s the time take action to ensure your organization will be successful in adopting new technology in your business.

Lisa Travis is president of Adelante Consulting, a Colorado Springs strategic communications firm. For more information, visit www.consultadelante.com or e-mail her at lisa@consultadelante.com.