"Alexa, order me a Domino's."

I was talking to a dark gray cylinder on my desk. The Amazon Echo with Alexa voice commands has been out for a while, but you have to be a little patient with it. Right now, it controls the  lights and door locks in my house, the temperature, and I can order a Domino's pizza by voice. It's a fantastic setup.

To get this all to work, you don't need a degree in engineering (e.g., I majored in journalism). You do need to be open-minded and flexible with your time.

The Alexa app runs in my browser and, to connect the smarthome devices, I have to go into a settings screen and enable some features. It's not rocket science. Yet, it's an unknown realm, a far cry from the safety and comfort of finding a desktop wallpaper in Windows 10 or doing a slightly more complicated Boolean search on Google.

One of the great challenges of being an early adopter is that everything is always new, and this can be a headache all by itself. Earlier this month, when I was testing the HTC Vive virtual reality headset, the actual hardware and software were easy to install and use. I never felt nauseous as I walked around on a ship underwater or painted in a 3D room. Yet, it's definitely weird. The device transports you into another realm, a daunting idea if someone is just learning how to use Chrome or install an app.

The risk is not in the installation and use of these new gadgets and technology. The risk is when they don't quite work. That's the daunting part. When you're an early adopter, you have to be ready to give up a Saturday (as I did to test the Vive) and rabbit trail on seemingly minor issues. Even the companies behind these innovations will say: Proceed at your own risk and keep your weekend free.

Here's a personal example. I'm also testing a connected thermostat called the Sensi. It's an amazing device and syncs with the Amazon Echo easily enough. I can issue voice commands to change the temperature in my basement. Wow! Early on, the boiler in my house made a loud noise whenever I made adjustments to the heat from the control panel. Because I'm "early" it means no one has ever heard of this problem before. Then, to my own chagrin, the problem went away.

With early adoption, the time-consuming part is when everything is working except that minor little feature that doesn't. Yet, the minor little feature might be the one you really need. And, it might be the one that takes up all of your mental energy.

The other problem is support. If you own an iPhone, you know you can search online for just about any problem and find the answer. With the HTC Vive or the Sensi, not so much. When I had some issues getting a video card to work with the Vive, there was literally only one person in the world who could help me: A tech support agent assigned to my test. I had  signed a document that said I wouldn't post anything about my test on social media. Posting on Quora was not an option.

Companies that embrace new technology run the same risks. Let's say you decide to deploy a Google Chromebook Pixel to every employee in your company. Sure, you might see some immediate benefits. They will run fast. People will know how to use them since they boot right into a browser. Congratulations, you adopted them early. (Actually, they've been out awhile.) Now you get to start rabbit trailing. Marketing folks can't use them because they don't run Photoshop (yet). The sales guy can't use his because it doesn't work with his wireless projector. Oops.

There's an entire category of technology called DevOps dedicated to this problem. As Wired so expertly explained recently, DevOps is an emerging field that seeks to make "Development" and "Operations" coexist. Developers are creating something new; Operations wants to keep things stable. When a company is really good at DevOps, they can experiment and try new things, then weave those innovations into the company infrastructure in a way that works smoothly.

A startup? You might not have Dev or Ops. You might have a one person IT shop.

My advice is to look long and hard at any new piece of technology before you adopt it. Think about whether there is adequate support. Test that theory by asking questions on a site like Quora (if allowed!) and see what happens. Write a list of the things you really need to be fully functional, and ask the company if those things are likely to work. (In my Chromebook example, you would have found out about the wireless projector problem and you would have discovered that Photoshop won't work.)

You have to ask the right questions, then be ready to make compromises. For some of us, it might be easier to drive to a local Domino's and pick up the pizza. Yet, the results are amazing. A pizza arrived at my door about 30 minutes later.

Published on: Apr 22, 2016