As an information technology (IT) leader dealing with the intricacies and complexities of enterprise technology every day, I can tell you this: it’s not the technology that is the toughest thing to change in IT. It’s the people. Here’s my personal take on 4 of the hardest IT transformations to implement – and how people make or break those changes.
1. Going global
There’s no question that transforming your company from regional-based systems to global systems is a big job. Global applications, global processes, global networks … that takes tech expertise to the nth degree. You need to talk with the regions, departments, and teams to ensure that you have all the business requirements clear and know how the end-to-end processes now need to work before you can consolidate disparate systems or stand up new ones.
That being said, chances are that you’ll find those separate regions have their own cultures, methodologies, goals, and initiatives … and they like it that way. It often works, and works well – for them. The most important thing when talking to these regions is to remember that people want to be heard and valued for their expertise. This doesn’t mean they’re absolutely tied to the old way of doing things. Most likely, they simply want to provide context so that their voices and inputs are considered in the new direction.
So as you transform your ERP apps to span the world, or plug in new SaaS apps to transform the user experience, you simultaneously need to build a culture that helps people move out of their regional silos. Hear what they have to say before you encourage them to embrace a new perspective. Having listened, you can then encourage them to look at what is best for the company and for the customer overall. Let them see the benefits that will come from globalization, such as the removal of inconsistencies or duplication. Acknowledge that they are giving up something when they lose their regional approach, but assure them that there are great answers to the ever present question “WIIFM”: “What’s in it for me?”
2. Migrating legacy applications
There are often – though not always – financial benefits associated with migrating legacy applications to the cloud. Unfortunately, it’s never a matter of just moving the app from Point A to Point B and shifting dollars from capex to opex. Customizations, integrations, security requirements, and concerns of protecting personally identifiable information (PII) often impact the timeline and present unexpected hurdles. Reward your team for adapting to and overcoming roadblocks and ensure if you select an implementation provider, they are willing to partner with you every step of the way.
What often happens is that migration to the cloud changes not only how IT supports the application, but drives a new user experience. For example, employees who are accustomed to accessing data in one way might need to learn a new system or procedure. The infrastructure team that used to function as a “Lone Ranger” now needs to work with a third-party vendor. In addition, customers or vendors who are used to hardcopy quotes, contracts, and invoices might discover that a migrated app delivers quotes on demand, click-through contracts, and online invoices. The data is the same, but the digital presentation of it and how you access it might be very different.
The challenge? Teams may need help embracing a new way of doing things: you need to communicate the value of the new processes and allow time for transition and training.
3. Changing domains
At Sungard Availability Services, we are in the midst of this one right now. Earlier this year, we split off from SunGard Data Systems to form an independent company. In the process, our domain changed to www.sungardas.com, which is resulting in changes not only to our email system but also to our communications with employees, customers, vendors and partners.
The fact is, changing your domain involves massive file migrations, starting over from a search engine ranking perspective, and modifying marketing materials, voice recordings, and forms. You have to change how people login to portals, authenticate to applications, and manage their mailboxes and workflows. And then there’s all the communication that has to go out to alert customers, vendors, and partners that your email addresses are changing – in our case, from sungard.com to sungardas.com. (Have any Sungard Availability Services people in your contact list? Make this change right now to their email addresses!)
So what’s the challenge here? Internally, it’s making sure people track down every ramification of your new domain. Build a cross-functional team soliciting impact from every department in the organization. Communicate often and early. Be creative in how you trigger awareness to your end user community that they need to take action. Align with your marketing and internal communications teams for assistance in rewording the messaging. The systems changes behind the scenes are not what will get their attention. It’s ensuring that once the change is made, our customers have a seamless experience.
4. Building bridges
The last change I want to talk about doesn’t involve technology directly, but is intimately connected with IT. In an era where business units often have their own technology budgets and are looking for quick solutions to address evolving business needs, IT needs to take the stance of partner – not gatekeeper. Why do you want to do this? Too often I’ve seen IT get cut out of the conversation in technology selections because they’re perceived as too dogmatic, too conservative, and too slow. The best approach? Reach out to your business stakeholders, listen first before proposing solutions, and once a technology is selected, talk in terms of what it will take to get it done rather than focusing on the barriers. Governance is a good thing, but only if your business partners know you’re on board.
IT has the distinct purview into knowing how data flows across systems and what integration points, security measures, and support models are needed to run an application. They not only want to do the right things, but they want to do things right. Giving this message to your business partners will open the doors for them to seek out IT as implementation partner, not avoid you as a roadblock.
I could give you more examples, but as you can clearly see, the key to success is not transforming your systems … it’s transforming your culture. One of the biggest challenges to implementing technology change is that you need to engage people. If you approach people with the belief that they have knowledge and context that will drive success and if you listen first, you will get the engagement you need to drive change. Remember – technology change is supported by business users who are also running operations. People are the hub of every change.
The good news is this: when you include people as one of the key components of your technology change, even the hardest implementations won’t be as hard as you think.
This article was previously published on Forbes.com and the Sungard AS blog.