Recently I have attended several conferences that have focused on mobile and consumerization. A recurring theme has come up, either onstage or in conversation, that when it comes to mobility, “adoption is the new ROI.” There is this sense that if we can just get people to use a particular app or service, it will be good for the business, and a return will just invariably follow. It is also often claimed that, in the case of mobility, measuring success or return is too difficult or not possible. Therefore, it is believed, we should focus our efforts instead on just getting people to use the technology and not concern ourselves with establishing a return. However, using adoption as the measuring stick of enterprise mobility spend and success is nothing short of fiduciary recklessness buoyed by sheer laziness.
Measuring return of a technology project isn’t just the practice dictated by the outdated IT department. It is the natural output of a well-thought-out project. It is simply the quantitative correlation to the qualitative question of why. Any technology project needs to be able to answer the question of why. Why is this a viable project for the business? What is the desired outcome? How is this going to make end users more productive? If you can answer why, it can be measured. The technology that follows consumerization cannot be used as an excuse to abandon asking why.
The sole purpose of an enterprise is to make money. Consumerization has not changed that. It has made great strides in altering how we go about supporting that purpose, but it has not, and never will, replace it. Getting people to use technology is not enough. It has to be the right technology. It has to support the overall business goals and objectives. A lot of people performing a particular action is not the same as the right people performing the right action. Technology has to advance the underlying business objective. No amount of adoption will overcome misdirection.
Using adoption as a measure of return is an indication of piss-poor planning. Projects should include your end users from the start. If you are wondering whether your users will adopt what you’ve built then you’ve already failed. There should be no question in your mind what you are building will be adopted because the decision to do so wasn’t done in a vacuum. This fact alone should make adoption a silly measure of return. If you have thought through the why, then adoption will be a no-brainer.
Also, just because the reason for return is difficult to measure doesn’t mean we should abandon it altogether or offer up a poor substitute. In the end, mobility, or any consumer tech, is technology just like any other. Enterprises have a responsibility and a right to demand an accounting of how budgets were spent and how it affects the bottom line. Your project may not have a direct impact on the bottom line, but it can’t just be technology for technology’s sake. It has to support a business process or users that do. It should make a difference and improve how users get their job done.
Measuring ROI is going to take a partnership between business units and IT. This is because the lines of business seldom have the technical expertise, analytical skills, or monitoring capabilities to measure a return on a technology project. Even adoption itself can rarely be measured by an individual business group with any more accuracy than a show of hands or gut feel of how many people are using the new solution.
As much as BYOD and the consumerization of IT have meant a new frontier for businesses, it can’t mean a mobile and technology free-for-all. In the end, consumerization is not about relinquishing all sense of technical and financial responsibly to the end users, but about partnering with those in the know to build the right solutions. The lines of business end users know what they need and IT should (hopefully) know how to support and measure it.
Consumerization shouldn’t drive organizations to fall into the average consumer’s irresponsible spending and tracking habits. Instead it should demand an ease of use of technology in the enterprise that aligns with the goals of the business. It should encourage a partnership between those with the business need and knowledge and those who have the technical competency. Both IT and the line of business should, without hesitation, be able to answer the “why.” Most importantly, when a business spends a dollar it should understand the return.