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Post by Rob Collie


A Recent Trip to the Hospital Highlighted the Folly of The Way Things Work

That Oh So Sneaky “Adoption Problem”

I spend a lot of time talking to software vendors. One vendor specifically of course, whose name rhymes with “Bike Row Loft.”  But all software vendors share one basic habit, which is that they’re constantly asking, “How do we get more customers to BUY our tools?”

But I also spend a lot of time talking to their customers.  And while the vendors expect their customers’ most pressing question to be “which software tools do I buy,” the reality I see is FAR different.

Buying software is just the FIRST step down a very difficult road.  You choose the software from Vendor X, announce the decision to your organization, send Vendor X a check…  and that’s the starting gun.


Yeah, Vendor X sees that as the END of the story.  And so do their competitors, Vendor Y and Vendor Z, who slink away defeated.  But you, the purchaser of the tools, well, your story is just beginning isn’t it?

Now you have to get your PEOPLE to start USING the new tools.  And to KEEP using them.  I’ve discovered that this is by FAR a much bigger problem than choosing the tool. 

“The New Operating Room Sucks, Who Designs These Things?”


The WTF-Were-They-Thinking Problem is the flipside of the Adoption Problem.  And it was clearly illustrated to me recently when my wife had a minor surgical procedure.

The operating room had recently been…  “upgraded.”  And the nurses, the doctors, the entire medical staff was complaining about it nonstop.  The entire setup of the new OR was apparently far less functional than the prior setup.  Equipment, instruments, the table itself – all were now located in places that were clumsy and awkward for performing actual surgeries.

This does not inspire confidence – surgeons complaining about their work tools and environment. But they couldn’t help it.  “The people designed this have clearly never performed surgery” was their refrain.


The WTF-Were-They-Thinking Problem (Right)
is the flipside of the Adoption Problem (Left)

The USERS of the tools (surgeons or data analysts) aren’t involved in the SELECTION of the tools (operating rooms and software).  And this is the root of both problems.  They are, actually, one and the same.

Arranged marriages of software and users are a spin of the roulette wheel.  Sometimes it works, but usually it does not.

So what do we do about it?  Two things.

The Takeaways:  One for Software Vendors, One for Their Customers

Let’s start with software customers.  Don’t let tool selection be an executive, ivory tower thing.  Involve the users closely in the process.  And not just “celebrity” users, like the fancy-pants managers of certain departments.  I mean the REAL users.  The workers you don’t normally meet face to face.  Skip the middlemen/middlewomen and go straight to the real users.

Don’t just do the checkbox analysis, unless you include “users like it a LOT” as the biggest checkbox.

OK, vendors.  You already design your tools, in theory at least, to be easy to adopt. So, no real change there.

But some tools ARE easier to adopt than others!  And if your product happens to be one of those, well, feature that fact as part of your marketing.

Completely Random Example!


This Example Selected ENTIRELY at Random!  Honest! Winking smile

So, hypothetically speaking…  let’s say there are two BI tools.  One of them is like a stealth virus that slips into Excel users’ brains and workflows without resistance.  The other positions itself as a full-on alternative to the tool they already use (Excel) and therefore starts out with no buyin, and in fact stubborn resistance.

If you are the vendor who produces the first tool, the stealth virus, maybe you should leverage that.  Maybe even tell your customers that their Adoption Problem will be much MUCH smaller should they choose your tool over, say, one whose name rhymes with Bad Blow.  Heck, use that tool as a gateway drug to your other tools.  Say it with me…  WE SOLVE THE ADOPTION PROBLEM.  Because your customers are FULLY aware of the Adoption Problem even though it’s mostly invisible to you, the vendor.  The Adoption Problem keeps them up at night.  The age of BYOD has made users even more self-determining than before, less likely to just accept edicts from on high.

And if you’re a BI software customer, maybe give some thought to this too.  The people who are going to be using the tools already use Excel.  If one of the tools out there has a gateway to BI that flows through Excel…  I don’t know.  Maybe give it some thought.

We’ve seen this over and over again. Organizations want to move their analyst users into the 21st century.  They buy them Tool X and it fails.  Tool Y also subsequently fails.  (Those vendors count the sales as Wins of course, but they didn’t turn out to be wins for the customer). 

MANY of our client engagements take place at companies who “own” Tableau licenses, for instance, but only a handful of people are actually using it.  We get called in when the customer finally cries Uncle on that effort and is ready to try something new.  The reason we succeed where others fail, in this regard, is we use a toolset that COMES TO the existing users, helps them where they already are, and opens many subsequent doors to the rest of the Microsoft BI stack.  The other tools are an ATTACK on those users and their existing skillsets and comfort zones.  Don’t fight battles you don’t have to.

OK, enough.  See you folks next week. Same bat time, same bat channel Smile

Rob Collie

Rob Collie

One of the original engineering leaders behind Power BI and Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, Rob Collie founded a consulting company in 2013 that is 100% devoted to “the new way forward” made possible by Power BI and its related technologies. Since 2013, PowerPivotPro has rapidly grown to become the leading firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology never before seen in the Business Intelligence space. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team would like to help you revolutionize your business and your career.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Well said; I agree.

    A vision that all-to-few software vendors (and executives that sign-off on purchases) never catch when leaving users out of the evaluating/buying process: There is no user so un-able that they cannot make a new tool not work.

  2. One of the predominant problems with all new software tools is lack of training, and more broadly, lack of any sort of consistent internal community training and knowledge-sharing platforms. Every software tool you buy should have a Sharepoint page / website with a forum for all your employees to come share tips, examples, questions, etc.

    Hopefully in the very near future due to all the millennials and corporate social media platforms like HipChat, Slack, Discourse, etc. this will all be mitigated.

  3. It can get pretty comical when ‘adoption’ is defined as loosely as possible by the decision makers. Is exporting a Cognos report to Excel adoption? Is attending a few required, IT-controlled demonstrations of Qlik excitement? Of course BI expertise is required but so does real world examples of why/how the new tool drives incremental value.

  4. Sounds great! I’m wondering what this stealth tool is and when will it be available, is it some future Microsoft product? Are we talking about SQL Server 2016, SharePoint vNext, some future version of DataZen or something completely new (e.g. a replacement for Performance Point)?

    At present we’re having issues with the current Microsoft provisions. The latest version of Power BI doesn’t integrate with Excel (we’re largely on 2010), it forces you to use the stand alone front end (which we can’t install because it needs IE10 and as our main patient records system isn’t compatible with it we’re stuck on IE9), can’t join to our multi-dimensional cubes, doesn’t integrate into SharePoint or Reporting Services and it can’t even connect to existing PowerPivot models created in Excel. There’s also the issue of it being illegal to put our data into the cloud so there’s no reasonable way to share the reports it creates at present.

    With all of the above issues the likes of Tableaux are looking pretty tempting as a one stop solution that actually does what we need as of now. Tableaux would also work out significantly cheaper than the $9.99 a month per user (5,000-10,000 of them) would cost us to deliver reports. Something like delivered through Reporting Services on premises would be perfect for us though.

  5. “….. all were now located in places that were clumsy and awkward for performing actual surgeries”
    This is exactly how 90% of the Excel users felt when they first introduced the Ribbon in 2007
    Productivity took a backseat in the UI design……

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