Reducing the Impact to Technology Initiatives during Business Integration

Firms merge for many reasons, but one thing often not considered is how the merger will affect the ongoing technology initiatives at each firm.

Often multi-million dollar projects are in process at the time two firms decide to merge; projects that were not designed to consider a merger.  Systems and projects might be redundant (or worse, nearly redundant) and there are many instances where multi-million dollar projects were scrapped in the name of synergy.  Great ideas are lost and firms often take a step back in creating industry leading solutions.

With proper planning and implementation, firms can prevent (or reduce) wasting their technology investments, while meeting their users’ needs and integrating similar, but culturally different, organizations.

All answers must consider three foundations: People, Process and Systems. 

The right people designing powerful and flexible systems and developing proper processes will often create best-in-breed solutions, find cost savings, be quick to market and build systems that allow for future growth.

The following five concepts can add significant value to firms in process of integration:

    1. Don’t Ask the User, At Least not at First
    2. Invest in Training
    3. Emphasize that Change is Coming; Early and Often
    4. Enhance Systems to the Degree Possible
    5. Dynamic Feedback – Consume and Respond

1.  Don’t Ask the User, At Least not at First

The speed at which two organizations merge will be directly related to cost.  A slow merger not only costs more actual dollars, but may also lead employees and customers to depart for competitors.  Speed to market is crucial.

Instead of getting trapped in a lengthy requirements-gathering process, determine the requirements through an analysis of any/all systems under consideration.  This type of requirements-gathering can be done without needing to consult actual users and provides for an independent view of the system. 

Experienced industry professionals will understand ways to improve the system(s) without being stuck in the ‘this is the way it needs to be done, because this is the way it has been done’ mentality.  These team members should document the existing functionality as well as their ideas for improvement. 

Developments to replicate existing functionality are highest priority, but quick win improvements should also be considered for the initial deployment.

Once an understanding of the current tools/functionality is understood, the appropriate system(s) to ‘improve’ should be determined.  A typical example would be taking the CRM system from one firm and building on the functionality that the other firm would lose without modification. 

The key point is to maintain all critical functionality.  While the user interface may need to change, new systems can be learned. This is the focus of the next concept; Invest in Training.

2.  Invest in Training

Help desk support is crucial to satisfying user demands, especially during the initial phases of integration.  Even if functionality has not been removed, but instead just moved, it can cause great stress for a short period of time. 

This is easily seen with the upgrade from Microsoft Excel 2007 to Excel 2010.  Many users were in an uproar when they upgraded and could not easily find some of their commonly used functions.  Ultimately, most users got over the frustration and would have an even harder time going back to the old version as they have come to expect the added functionality.

Management needs to understand frustration caused by change is inevitable.  But, they should not let frustration stop innovation.  Firms can reduce frustration by investing in training.  Investments should be made in the following areas: training videos, additional help desk resources and additional help desk tools.

Different users prefer different methods and various options will lead to impressed and satisfied customers.

3.  Emphasize that Change is Coming; Early and Often

Users that know that change is coming and feel confident that ‘functionality’ will not be lost will be more apt to accept change, especially if they are confident that suitable support will be there for them.

4.   Enhance System to the Degree Possible

Feedback on prior systems has likely been gathered by both firms prior to the merger.  Use this as an opportunity to enhance the system.  One need not fix every problem Day 1, but incremental improvements will have a lasting impact on users.  Other enhancements can be scheduled for later phases.

5.  Dynamic Feedback – Consume and Respond

Technology has reached a level where it is easy for users to rate content and functionality.  Firms that accept feedback on an on-going basis can more easily respond to all user demands, in comparison to trying to gather requirements only in focus groups.  Users may request functional enhancements to a system.  That data should be made available not just to management, but also to other users.   Those users can review and rate requests.  This information is automatically prioritized and can help determine short term and long term development roadmaps.   

Ownership to ideas should also be documented.  People love to receive credit for good ideas and are unlikely to request, publically, bad ideas.  This will lead to the best ideas being brought to management’s attention and prioritized.  Management should respond, on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly) to the ideas being requested from the field and explain how/what is scheduled for future development. 

Management should provide justification for all decisions and make themselves available to speak with users.

Conclusions 

Firms will merge and technology constantly needs to be improved.

The process of requirements gathering, building, testing, deploying and training is not a straight line but a circle that feeds on itself.

 

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