What enterprises can learn from Segway Human Transporter

Coolness alone can't make a technology succeed

When it comes to tech deployments, cool can take you only so far. Sure, cool can cement success in an app that gives people something they want or know they need, but coolness alone can't make a technology succeed.

Take the Segway Human Transporter: cool factor 11, the most frisson fabricated for any product this millennium. But it has sold units in the tens of thousands instead of the millions mainly because it was introduced into a system without the requisite infrastructure in place to fuel its success.

The market for automobiles caught fire in part because a smoothed road system had already been laid down for bicycles in the 1880s. The Segway, on the other hand, is seen as dangerous to pedestrians (it goes three times walkers' rate on sidewalks) and its rider (it tops out at half the cruising speed of vehicles on roads). And because the finely tuned technology -- and marketing -- inspired grandiose investor expectations, it needed to achieve mass adoption quickly, as opposed to the successful diffusion of bicycles and then autos, both of which proliferated on a handcrafted basis with stochastic evolution and mass extinctions.

IT would do well to remember the abundance of great (and cool) technologies that didn't have the social infrastructure to catch on quickly. Lots of ERP implementations trickled out simply because documentation used vocabulary that didn't match the buyers'. And if you roll out a time-keeping or SFA system, for example, that uses an entirely different workflow from legacy processes without investing in change management, it'll get nothing more than a dead-rat bounce.

"The infrastructure" for these apps is user buy-in; you have to sell users, in their own terms, on what the apps can do for them. Users can be "made" to use the systems you deploy for them, but if they don't really want to, they sabotage effectiveness explicitly or passively through lack of intense commitment. And that happens no matter how tricked out the tech.

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