The pain and risks of ignored IT infrastructure
Cancer, aches & pains, ticking time bombs, pick your term du jour, they all apply when IT solutions are ignored and left to grow roots. There are many reasons why IT solutions are left behind to grow roots, but in this blog I'm focusing on the process of integration after a corporate acquisition as the antagonist.
Human behavior, resource allocation and or risk assumptions
Corporate acquisitions are a time of excitement, fear, opportunity, and most importantly pain and all of this is tied to "change", which is a huge problem for virtually everyone. There are many great books about how to better manage change in your life and your career, but this blog isn't so much about change as it's about leveraging the opportunity associated with change more effectively.
The human equation is interesting to me as it is rarely quantified in project planning, and doesn't show up on the ROI assumptions. Yet, when the human equation is ignored you will likely fail in whatever endeavor you've embarked on. The activity of corporate acquisitions causes no small amount of fear and bad behavior amongst employees in both companies. On the one hand those being acquired are concerned about reporting to new bosses, changing job responsibilities, lost importance, new company culture, and even worse the prospect of maybe losing their job. On the other hand the acquiring company employees will suffer from some of those same concerns, but most often the problems are related to a lack of empathy and or an attitude of superiority towards those being acquired.
The weakest link is often the leadership team's failure to take the human equation into account. When leadership doesn't adequately plan for how to deal with the resulting human problems the seeds of dissent are sown. The seeds of dissent are often manifested in passive resistance and in some cases outright rebellion as it relates to building the new company vision. This resistance and rebellion are a big part of whether or not you have a successful integration. By successful I mean one year after the acquisition your infrastructure and applications look like they are "one" company and your employees act the same. To avoid these issues the leadership team must apply several fundamental rules of engagement:
A Few Critical Rules of Engagement:
- Tell the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth to both companies employees (This one is most often ignored. At least that's been my experience
- Have well defined guidelines for what technologies you'll keep, what you'll integrate and what you'll retire (Too often an afterthought)
- Establish clear (and truthful) employee integration, training and opportunity communication plans
- Resource effectively so that you can manage the human equation and complete the integration against a well-defined timeline (this means department level staff whose fulltime duties are the integration)
How the above is related to islands of IT left to fester
I like to use an old quote from my dad "would you rather pull the Band-Aid off one hair at a time, or rip it off and get the pain over with?" The simple message here is why prolong the agony if in the end the pain is actually worse? All too often as part of acquisition integrations we avoid decisions on what infrastructure or applications to keep, and what to retire until years after the business side of the activity has been completed. This delay in "ripping the Band-Aid off" can and often is the cause of major cost, staffing, and complexity risks to your IT. Many of us now acknowledge that most IT organizations spend ~75% of their time "keeping the lights on". Often a big part of that 75% figure is directly associated with poor decisions related to ripping the Band-Aid off.
The main point of this message regarding ripping the bandage off is simply that there is already significant change (pain) occurring as a direct result of on-going acquisition activities. Would you rather delay the necessary activities of real IT integration and rationalization and cause even greater pain at a later date or get the dirty deed done so you can move on? You can pretty much guarantee that delaying the activity will cause greater pain. The longer you wait, the deeper embedded the infrastructure or application is likely to become and by embedded I mean IT staff and customers are more invested in it.
Been on both sides
I've been on both sides of the acquisition effort and have seen many things done wrong, but most often the missed opportunities are related to the bullets above. On several occasions I've had to be the bad guy and fix the infrastructure of my employer when they've ignored the Band-Aid rule in the past. I've also had to struggle with integrating an acquisition where the infrastructure and application environments make it look like they are five companies instead of one. Trust me when I say ripping the Band-Aid off quickly is almost always the best way to go.
Don't be an ostrich
Don't stick your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away, because it won't. Ignored IT environments have a bad habit of growing into something that becomes "critical" or overly "integrated" to other systems. The longer the environment is left to fester, the more critical it becomes (read: infected). Once you have people and process invested in trying to protect turf and therefore the future of an environment, the removal difficulty goes way up.
Think two or three times and act once
The next time you're involved in a major change event at work, whether it's an acquisition or other fundamental shift think long and hard about what you want to own after the change has occurred and acknowledge the human aspects of your decision. Then go about making the changes quickly, and honestly, you'll be better and healthier for it in the long run.