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9 September 2008

Managing mergers and reorganisations

By Andrew Clifford

To successfully navigate the IT of mergers, acquisitions and reorganisations you need to quickly establish high-level visibility, direction and control across the new structure. Here's how.

In my time in IT, I have lived through many major reorganisations. While working for a previous employer, the company demerged, was taken over, and then swallowed the company that took it over. It bought, and sold, a number of other companies. The local IT department went through numerous reorganisations as the requirements of the broader business (and whims of management) changed and evolved.

We manage this sort of change by combining the separate parts: we implement a new organisation structure, common processes, shared infrastructure, and common standards. This takes a lot of time, costs a lot of money, and is very hard. What can we do to make the process easier?

The method I now present as system quality management started as a technique for helping this type of change. System quality management is a simple method, with three main concepts.

  • Present IT as a set of separate systems, rather than a complex of organisation, processes, projects and technology.
  • Present IT strategy and objectives as characteristics, or qualities, that these systems should have. For example, the objective of risk mitigation is in part demonstrated by the presence of adequate system recovery plans.
  • Assess each system for its qualities, and use the body of information you gather to understand the situation and develop an ongoing action plan.

The beauty of this approach is that it lets you quickly establish consistent management visibility, direction and control across an inconsistent environment. It lets you manage even if the organisation, processes, projects and technologies are all over the place. This makes the method very valuable during mergers, acquisitions and reorganisations.

You can get started with the method very quickly. All you need is a list of information and characteristics of relevance. Some of these will reflect general IT good practice, and some will reflect the specific requirements of the reorganisation (new standards for handling financial information, for example). You can use this to assess all the systems across the new structure. This quickly gives you a tool for overall direction and control. You can identify the areas that are priorities for management, and gather the facts and justification you need to be act confidently.

The real power of the method is that it lets you manage the new structure before you have completed the reorganisation. For example, you can start working towards exploiting shared infrastructure before you have merged operations departments. The method provides co-ordination and assurance that lets you work at different parts of the reorganisation at different speeds, and make sure that it all comes together eventually. In a group-subsidiary arrangement, it lets you set and control the required high-level direction, without otherwise interfering with local IT management.

System quality management evolved as a simple, practical tool for managing heterogeneous IT against a backdrop of major reorganisations. Of course there is more to managing reorganisations than just getting to grips with the IT, but system quality management does make that part of the work much simpler, and lets you direct more of your attention to the things that really matter.

Next: Why PCs are not secure

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