The technology adoption life cycle refers to the adoption of innovations around a new technology core by different user groups at various stages of maturity. As the quality, cost, and complementary resource requirements vary along with the technology life cycle, adoption by different user groups keeps unfolding to varying stages of maturity. Due to the significant effect of maturity levels on adoption suitability by diverse user groups, the technology adoption lifecycle as a sociological model suffers from important limitations. Compared to defined adopter groups’ demographic and psychological characteristics, economic justification appears to be a more substantial factor affecting the technology adoption life cycle.
There has been a significant variation of purposes of technology adoption among two main groups: (i) end users and (ii) innovators. Hence, modeling technology adoption as a classical normal distribution or bell curve fails to explain factors affecting technology adoption. Besides, terming a specific group of end users as innovators also creates confusion.
Key takeaways of technology adoption life cycle
- Quality and cost of technology affect technology adoption by different user groups.
- Along with the maturity level, the quality and cost of technology keep changing.
- Technology adoption life cycle as a social model appears to be a gross simplification of reality.
- Technology adoption responses of end users and innovators vary.
Benefits of technology adoption life cycle model
- Predictions—The adoption life cycle model offers a reference of forecasts. However, reality may significantly vary from the model.
- Determining target customers—the technology adoption life cycle offers a reference model for selecting target customer groups at different maturity levels.
- Determining Innovation response—the same innovations from a new technology are unsuitable for all customer groups. Hence, innovators need to adapt product designs based on the maturity level of technology.
- Reference model for monitoring and communication—an acceptable technology adoption life cycle model would facilitate progress monitoring and communication among stakeholders.
Limitations of technology adoption life cycle as a social model
As Wikipedia states, the technology adoption life cycle is a bell curve, a social model. There has been a time delay in adopting technology due to the demographic and psychological characteristics of defined adopter groups. The first group of people adopting technology is called “innovators”. The remaining four groups adopting in sequence are early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard. Defining different categories of adopters in the following way appears to be inappropriate for technology adoption:
- Innovators–educated and prosperous group.
- Early adopters—a younger and more educated segment of the society.
- early majority—conservative, educated group.
- late majority—older, less educated group.
- laggards—very conservative, oldest, and least literate.
The technology adoption life cycle as a social model appears to consider technology static. It does not consider the effect of economic benefits on the adoption decision by different groups. Not all groups derive the same financial benefit from the adoption of technology. Besides, along with the growth of technology, quality, and cost keep changing, affecting adoption decisions. The technology adoption life cycle as a social model seems not to consider this reality either.
Redefining technology adoption life cycle
The consideration of the following realities has led to redefining technology adoption life cycle mode:
- Dynamic life cycle and economic benefit–technology has a dynamic life cycle; the quality and cost of technology keep changing along with maturity.
- Factors influencing technology adoption--the economic benefit is a far more influencing factor than social characteristics in technology adoption decisions.
- Varying technology adoption benefits--not all adopters derive similar economic benefits from the adoption of a new technology.
- Adopter groups--there are two major technology adopter groups: end users and innovators.
- Discontinuity in adoption--due to unpredictable technology advancement barriers, technology adoption may suffer from a break, creating the chasm effect.
Technology adoption by end users
There appear to be four groups of adopters of technology as end users. Along with the progression of the life cycle of technology, these groups adopt them in sequence. Instead of demographic and psychological characteristics, economic benefits determine the adoption decision of these adopter groups, as explained below:
- Users finding high value in uniqueness (Military)—in the early stage of the life cycle, technology is primitive and costly. However, specific customers with unique requirements find enough economic value in primitive emergence as justification for adoption. Mainly, military customers belong to this group. For example, in the 1970s, satellite-based photography found primitive digital cameras a better alternative to film due to the ease of wirelessly transmitting images from orbit, instead of dropping film canisters in the ocean. Similarly, in the early days of computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, the military was the predominant customer.
- Government agencies and large corporations—further growth of technology makes economic value proposition justifiable for Government agencies and large corporations. For example, in the 1970s, a few government agencies and large corporations found economic justification for adopting a primitive word processor, which cost $12,000.
- Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—at the early stage of the growth phase, technology becomes affordable for small and medium-sized enterprises. For example, in the 1980s, SMES found mobile phones justifiable for their commuting top executives.
- Civilians—a new technology must get enough maturity to offer better quality alternatives at a lower cost in Getting jobs done by civilians. Indeed, there was no civilian customer for a 5MB hard disk weighing one ton in 1956. Hard disk technology had to grow far better and cheaper to offer economic justification in favor of civilian adoption. Of course, the civilian market segment could be segmented further. However, the time-varying response by these groups, forming a classical normal distribution, is due to the economics of continued technology progression. For example, mobile phones have reached the hands of farmers in Bangladesh due to the continued advancement of quality and cost reduction. Hence, the adoption of mobile phones and many technologies by different groups of civilians as a social phenomenon appears to be grossly erroneous.
Technology adoption by innovators
Technology adoption response by innovators depends on the purpose and type of innovators, as explained below:
- Incumbent players—often, incumbent innovators are reluctant to adopt new technology. Even if they do, they tend to focus on adopting new technology for Incremental innovation. For example, Kodak was unwilling to use electronic image sensors to reinvent its high-performing camera business. Similarly, Nokia showed hesitancy in accepting an iPhone-like design by adopting Android.
- New entrants—due to the entry strategy through creative destruction out of reinvention of matured products, new entrants show aggressiveness in adopting new technology. For example, although Kodak avoided it, Sony aggressively pursued digital cameras. Similarly, Tesla has been far more aggressive than incumbent automobile makers in adopting battery technology for powering automobiles.
Chasm in technology adoption life cycle
The chasm in the technology adoption life cycle refers to unexpected delays in adoption by subsequent groups. Although Geoffrey Moore referred to social factors as the underlying cause of chasm, due to the pause in technology progression, chasm happens in the life cycle of technology adoption. For example, militaries of the USA and a few other countries have adopted crude forms of autonomous vehicle technology. However, technology needs to progress further to make it suitable for the adoption of subsequent groups. Due to the high progression barrier, there has been an expected delay.
The adoption of technologies like computers, the Internet, and mobile phones indicates that technology adoption is far more than a social phenomenon. Economics plays a vital role in the adoption decision. As both the performance and cost keep changing along with the technology cycle, adopter groups respond in sequence due to the economic benefits. Hence, redefining the technology adoption life cycle appears to be very appropriate.