Should I (my company, my business unit, my department, etc.) adopt a digital technology?

Well, there is no easy answer to this question and it has many facets, which are as broad as the term digital technology itself. Rather than trying to define digital technology at this point (we will do this in further editions), I would like to remind us of an old but useful concept: diffusion of innovation.

The question of whether or not I should adopt a digital technology requires an investment decision. As with most investment decisions, they promise return, typically in the mid- to long-term, but require resources (time, money) in the short-term. And, typical for new technologies, such investment is associated with risk. A decision about investing in digital technology is therefore a decision associated with uncertainty.

What is driving decisions that involve uncertainty? The concept of DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION provides some answers. It was first published by the sociologist Everett M. Rogers in 1962 who sought to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. He argued that diffusion is the process by which an innovation reaches critical mass and is widely adopted. The speed of adoption depends on the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and the underlying social system.

Rogers distinguished five categories of adopters: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Diffusion then manifests itself in different ways in various cultures and is highly subject to the type of adopters and the underlying innovation-decision processes.

We probably can agree that healthcare, in contrast to many other industries, is characterized by slow adoption of digital technology. Not only are we faced with a highly regulated market but we also have a tradition of “old school” healthcare education, evidence, and safety. Compare this to markets with much faster development cycles such as media, financial services or telecommunications. These are industries where “creative destruction” (an idea developed by Joseph Schumpeter) drives fast innovation cycles. Rapidly designing a beta version of a new product, finding test users and then iterating it to improve the customer experience. Could you imagine that such an approach works in healthcare? Getting regulatory approval? Establishing a price? Increasing the user experience and later increasing the price again?

The crux is that healthcare does not evolve in isolation. As Rogers points out, the speed of adoption depends not only on the innovation itself but also on communication channels, time, and the underlying social system. Hence, you will need to define your adoption strategy. Whether you are an innovator or an imitator: Each strategy has its merits and its price.

Would you rather wait until others have burnt their fingers or can you keep ahead of the game? But be assured, while you still make up your mind, technology companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and hundreds of start-ups are entering a space that previously was comfortably locked for outsiders. And more and more patients are beginning to expect digital services from their healthcare providers…