In 1962 Everett Rogers proposed a generalized model of technology adoption, which described how new ideas and technologies spread, in his book Diffusion of Innovations.
The model is based on a Bell Curve split into several phases:
- Early Adopters
- Early Majority
- Late Majority
As an innovation moves through the various phases, it’s diffused across the population eventually getting to 100% market share:
It’s worth noting that the greatest opportunities exist for the people who manage to get into the cycle in the early phases. That’s also the place of highest risk, because not all technology goes through the full cycle and the market may be smaller than expected.
If you leave technology adoption until late in the cycle, you are at a much lower risk of failure, but likewise there’s a much lower level of opportunity available to you. Things at the beginning of the cycle probably need some debate about whether to adopt or not; if something is at the end of the cycle you should probably just get on with it.
This cycle is constantly at play in workplace technology. The predominant shift in workplace technology, at present, is the move to the cloud for most services. The cloud workplace isn’t about the delivery of the same services on servers in someone else’s data centre; the shift to the cloud is fundamentally changing the way services are delivered, as well as the services that are consumed.
What follows is my personal view, with some reasoning, of where I think various cloud workplace technologies fit on the technology adoption cycle, particularly in enterprises and larger organizations. I’d be interested to hear your perspectives on where they fit:
Cloud Communication and Collaboration
Technology: Google G Suite, Microsoft Office 365
Cycle Phase: Early Majority
Reasoning: Google G Suite and its predecessors have been around for over 10 years now. Office 365 has been around since 2010; its predecessor BPOS was available for a few years before that.
The build-out of the infrastructures required to make these capabilities available globally has taken a few years as demand has built, but it’s now reaching completion.
The number of situations where customers ask for on-site deployments have diminished to almost nothing.
Changing communication and collaboration capabilities is something that businesses need a compelling event to do, and infrastructures that were deployed in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are only now coming to the point of refresh. Most of these refreshes will drive a switch to Cloud Communication and Collaboration.
Communication and Collaboration capabilities are deployed so widely that hundreds of millions of users would need to be using them in the cloud to pass the 50% diffusion required to move into Late Majority phase. We aren’t quite at that level of deployment, but we aren’t far off.
Cloud File Sharing
Technology: Box, DropBox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive
Cycle Phase: Early Majority
Reasoning: In March 2016 DropBox reported that it had 500 million registered users.
Box is a bit smaller with over 50 million users (November 2016) but it does have a paying customer base of over 69,000 organisations (November 2016)
Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are bundled in with G Suite and Office 365 subscriptions.
In summary, that’s a lot of people using Cloud File Sharing capabilities. These numbers include a mixture of personal and enterprise numbers; the consumer world tends to move at a different pace to the enterprise market.
This market is starting to consolidate to a smaller set of vendors, which is another sign of things becoming mainstream.
File Sharing capabilities are deployed widely, which makes the 50% adoption needed to give a Late Majority classification a very large number indeed. Each of the current services are continuing to accelerate growth, which would also suggest that they are still in Early Majority phase.
Technology: Vonage, Microsoft Office 365 Cloud PBX, RingCentral
Cycle Phase: Early Adopters
Reasoning: Desk-based telephony is still the bedrock of communication for many businesses though this is changing rapidly. As organizations become more mobile and work flexibly ,the idea of a fixed phone is becoming secondary to other forms of communication. The broad adoption of the mobile phone has, for many, made this the default method of communication, which means that the market for fixed phones is probably shrinking.
This is one of those areas where innovation is diffused quite slowly. Telephony investments happen rarely and are generally only justified by the commissioning of a new building or by a significant building refurbishment — both things that don’t happen every year in most businesses. Even when these events do happen, organizations need the new building telephony to integrate into the rest of the corporate telephony system.
Organizations that are dependent upon fixed telephony will always default to tried-and-trusted methods because they can’t afford any glitches in new technology. These organizations are still purchasing hardware that is placed in offices.
Even though Cloud Telephony has been around for several years, the level of adoption is still low and resides as an Early Adopter technology. That’s not to say that the technology isn’t widely used, but that the level of diffusion into the broader population is low. The continued penetration of the mobile phone and other methods of communications is likely to result in an overall reduction in the market for Cloud Telephony when compared to the number of currently deployed fixed lines.
Technology: VMware Horizon Air, Citrix XenApp Essentials, Amazon WorkSpace
Cycle Phase: Early Majority
Reasoning: The Year of the Virtual Desktop has been proclaimed for a long time now, but the diffusion of virtual desktops into the broader business population has been limited to specific use cases and specific organizations.
Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) delivered as a cloud capability hasn’t reached mainstream adoption, but there have been advancements in recent years with Amazon, Microsoft (with Citrix) and VMware all making significant investments.
In the mobile-first digital world, the need for DaaS is driven by the need to access legacy applications. As these legacy applications are replaced by modern browser-based or mobile applications, the need for DaaS diminishes and the market gets smaller. I debated whether to put Cloud Desktop in the Late Majority or even the Laggards phase because of this.
Cloud Device Management
Technology: VMware Workspace One, Microsoft Intune, MobileIron Cloud,
Cycle Phase: Early Adopters
Reasoning: As devices become more mobile and spend more time connected directly to the Internet it makes sense that they are managed from the cloud. This brings with it a change in the way that devices are managed, with less heavy management techniques being used. This has arguably always been the case for iOS and Android devices, but it’s now also possible, even preferable, for MacOS and Windows 10 devices (See: Windows 10 and new device management options).
These services have been available as cloud capabilities for only a few years but they have seen rapid adoption. There’s still a long way to go for this type of device management to become mainstream, but it’s already become an option that many customers are considering.
There’s still a long way to go for cloud workplace technologies to become fully diffused, but many of them are approaching the Late Majority phase. As they do so, these approaches will become the normal way of doing business with few questions asked. The Innovators have already moved on to other technology innovations and are already gaining value from them, but that’s a subject for another day.
These are my personal perspectives and I’d love to hear yours.
And I must add that the Technology Adoption Life Cycle is a model so, as such, is covered by George Box’s quote: “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”
Graham Chastney is a Distinguished Architect in the CSC UK Office of the CTO. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with CSC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.