About six months ago my parents, who are retired and in their late 60s, purchased a computer for the first time so that they could surf the Web and generally keep up with the times.

Consequently, the phone calls I used to receive from them have been replaced by e-mails, such as this one: "We are leaving for Florida on Saturday afternoon. We will be gone for eight days. Let me know how you are doing. Love Mom."

I give them credit because most people their age flat out don't trust computers, let alone go out and purchase one.

They were up to the challenge, but the learning curve hasn't been easy. For them, navigating Web pages is like learning a foreign language. It's arduous and painful. My parents' worst fear is that if they hit a wrong keystroke, the machine will somehow self-destruct, so they approach this new world of e-commerce with much trepidation.

This past holiday season, my sister-in-law gave them two gift certificates to purchase books and wine online. The hope was that the process would be simple and convenient. Instead, my Dad spent more time talking to customer-service reps about shipping restrictions and the security of his credit card information being transmitted over the Internet than he did actually shopping online.

I spent about two hours guiding him through the e-commerce process, sometimes taking one step forward and two steps back. I could sense the frustration in his voice. The good news is the wine and books did eventually arrive, even if the shipping costs weren't to his liking.

Most users of technology in the commercial real estate arena are more like Mom and Dad than they care to admit. Naturally, the dilemma occurs on a much higher plane, but the problems are similar. In order to become familiar with a new listings service or an e-procurement system, users must endure a period of confusion. Before there can be any long-term gain in efficiency or cost savings, there exists a period of pronounced short-term pain.

Peter Pike, president of San Francisco-based PikeNet.com, refers to this phenomenon as the adoption challenge. "That is the challenge that each of us faces, including me, learning these new systems. [The process] is so difficult that the CEO and senior management have to demonstrate that they also are interested or willing to endure a feeling of incompetency while they learn a new system."

So take heart, Mom and Dad. I'm sure even billionaire real estate tycoon Sam Zell has been in your shoes learning the ins and outs of Project Constellation.

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