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Getting User to Actually USE the Database

Many assns will spend tens of thousands of dollars and months of effort to select and implement a new assn management system, only to find that in a very short time, the system is not being used as effectively as had been hoped.

While there are many factors that affect long-term success of an AMS, one underlying factor is user adoption. User adoption reflects how well (or not) the staff takes to using the new database. That is, do they fully embrace the system, find workarounds to avoid using it, or even actively work against its success?

So what elements can affect user adoption? Here are five that are critical:

  • User interface. This is what the software looks like to the user. It includes the navigation, design, icons and colors. Of the five elements here, this one might be the least under your control, but this is changing somewhat. Many software packages now allow users to configure their systems to only show information that is relevant to their job or function.
  • Training. In order to have a successful experience with a database, users must have a proper understanding of how to use the system. Training is where this happens.
  • Documentation. While training is critical for getting a user comfortable with using the system, long-term success is dependent on complete and thorough documentation that users can refer to while using the system.
  • Continuous feedback loop. Database software is ever-evolving. New functionality and new needs are constantly being identified. So it’s critically important to have some type of feedback loop that allows users to talk with each other and to provide feedback to the database manager and developers. If staff is having problems with the database, they need to know that they’ve got an outlet for raising those issues and having them addressed. Without this, staff will quickly resort to workarounds and creating “shadow” databases outside the primary system.
  • What’s in the user’s best self-interest? The single, most-effective way to get user adoption is to identify why it is in the user’s self-interest to use the system. Both carrots and sticks apply here. That is, the person’s job might require that they use the database. But carrots tend to work better, so identifying how the system will make the person more efficient, more effective, or more valuable to the organization will help with user adoption. But keep in mind that what might work for one person might not for another. Everyone has their own self-interest.

Finally, it should be noted that selecting the right system for your organization is absolutely critical for user adoption. It’s nearly impossible to improve user adoption of a tool that simply doesn’t do what the organization needs it to do.

User adoption is key to long-term success in your database. By addressing these five issues (and selecting the right system) you will greatly improve the odds of users adopting the database.

This article originally appeared in the May 15, 2009, issue of Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.


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