Getting New Systems Used

Getting new systems (models, programs, processes, innovations) used: As relevant now as 40 years ago

In 1979, Peter Keen, a professor at various times at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and Wharton, gave a keynote address entitled “Where Do Systems Get Used: Organizational Issues”. “Systems” for Keen translates to model-driven “decision support systems” (DSS) that were being introduced into business by management scientists. Keen was the leading academic voice on the organizational implications of introducing, integrating, and using these systems effectively.

The key points of this speech continue to stand the test of time and relate to the introduction of any new system, model, program, process, or innovation into an organization. Wherever he talks about systems or models, just make the appropriate substitution.

Excerpts and paraphrases in italics below are from a live recording of Peter Keen’s speech at the National Computer Conference in 1979. The recording was available for purchase at the Conference.


User-Centered: Congruent with the organization culture and other business practices

Major failures come from tremendous incompatibility between the way the job is done in the organization and the way the system is set up. In many management circles, one is really trying to get the system to force the user to behave in terms of the way the task “should be solved”. Rather, one needs to think of how the system can adjust to the way the user is going to solve the problem anyway.

Interface: Easy to use, ideally intuitive – and if people are involved pleasant

The key issues for making a system usable is the design of the interface. For most users, the interface is the system. The way they relate to the system and how they evaluate it is largely determined – assuming it does useful things – by how it feels.

Cost-Benefit: Adds “net benefit” for the real user – that the value is perceived, not just theoretical, missionary, or corporate-mandated

If value has not been established, all costs are disproportionate… not the cost benefit from the Corporate point of view but the cost-benefit from the perception of the user. Complexities in using the system, specifying the information the system needs, and explaining the output from the system are issues of essential resources from the point of view of the user.

Who Built It? Best and most credible spokesperson champions and introduces new ideas

The critical aspect of a model is who brings it in. It is fairly clear that the behavior of the implementer, the building of credibility, and the building of trust, is at least as important as the tool. The social history of models is as much about the history of the people who created them and their relationships, credibility, and advocacy as it is about the model itself.

Training: Operationalize and integrate

Interestingly, have we trained the user well enough to make effective use of it? How will it mesh into your job, integrate into your work, not just to be able to do the job but to make it personal, to make it a tool that is essential to one’s job?