Internal Technology Evangelist: Angel or Devil?

The person who advocates for the adoption of innovative solutions can be an important asset, or a drag on costs and a creator of risk.
Rob LivingstoneJuly 15, 2013

The development of new, disruptive and innovative technologies is one thing. Commercializing them and getting them flying off the shelves is another. In the current supersaturated market of innovations, from wearable technology to big data, the role of the technology evangelist can make all the difference to the business of a technology provider. But individual organizations can, and should, have such an evangelist too.

Generally, such a technology evangelist is one who can be a catalyst for the uptake of new technologies by skilfully responding to the inevitable array of questions, concerns and potential objections posed by nay-sayers and others opposed to the technology in one way or another.

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When your company is a potential user of a new or emerging technology, the consequences that a persuasive, single-minded technology evangelist may have on the company should be carefully managed.

A technology evangelist who is an employee may play an important part in airing for scrutiny a technology that may not have otherwise been considered. In your organization, does your CIO or IT team have the necessary influence needed to play the role of technology evangelist? Bringing to your attention an innovation or technology that can help the organization reduce cost, drive innovation or underpin efficiency could in fact be a game changer.

The technology evangelist has the potential to act as the turbocharger for initiatives and projects that meet real business needs, not to mention influence a challenge the status quo. A technology evangelist who has a comprehensive understanding of a technology’s potential value to your business, as well as a solid understanding of its technical and systemic risks, could be an important ally of the CFO.

However, there is a potentially darker side.

Devil in Disguise?
There are potential risks in the adoption of an employee evangelist’s technology choice, should the proposed path to adoption bypass cost, governance and risk-oversight processes. You don’t want to be stuck with the wrong application of a perfect solution and suffer adverse consequences long after the evangelist has moved on.

Moreover, for nontechnical senior executives, being able to distinguish the true technology evangelist from an opinionated acolyte of a particular vendor’s offering may be a real challenge. A perfect storm could occur where the single-minded evangelist’s enthusiasm for a specific solution gains a groundswell of support by line-of-business leaders without the appropriate vendor management due diligence and rigor applied to the solution. That can fan the flames of Shadow IT, which, if not managed appropriately, could plant the seeds of future cost and elevated risk. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a technology evangelist with an intimate understanding of your business and existing IT ecosystem, and who has the engagement skills to bring together enterprise IT, key stakeholders and customers, such a person can be a real asset.

On the other hand, the technology evangelist that acts as a lone wolf, and who does not operate with the full sanction, visibility and support from all key executive stakeholders, is a potential risk ­– possibly a big one, depending on your organization’s security posture, risk appetite, and legislative and compliance mandates.

As a CFO, are you able to identify the technology evangelist in your midst? More importantly, are you able to guide your peer executives in harnessing that person’s potential value, knowing the risk involved? Once the evangelist has influenced a new technology to be adopted, will that be the kind of person to then turn his or her attention to the next “big thing,” only to have the evangelization process repeated again and again?

A double-edged sword, indeed.

Rob Livingstone, a former CIO, is the author of Navigating Through the Cloud. He runs an IT advisory practice and is also a Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, where he teaches strategy and innovation in the school’s flagship MBITM program. Visit Rob at or e-mail him at [email protected].

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