How CIOs Drive M&A Success

They must be early partners, thorough planners and fast movers to make IT a force in successful integrations

Here’s a paradox for you: Successful acquisitions involve IT early, yet IT is typically brought in too late. Here’s another: People are critical to a smooth acquisition, yet M&A teams often pay scant attention to employee communication. And finally: Leading an acquisition is a significant career opportunity for CIOs, yet many fail to live up to the challenge.

“CIOs tend to make two major mistakes during an acquisition,” says Larry Rowland, formerly CIO and now VP of acquisition integration at Nuance Communications. “They delay the tough people decisions, and they assume that their own systems are better than anything run by the acquired company.”

Randy Gaboriault, CIO of Christiana Care Health System, concurs that “a fatal flaw for CIOs during acquisitions is choosing diplomacy over the truth” when communicating the integration plan. He also finds that CIOs who believe they can they can create a perfect integration plan are missing a major M&A truth: “Sixty percent of your planning assumptions are going to be wrong, yet you still have to satisfy the financial commitments you based on those assumptions.”

As if these potholes were not enough, Mike Brooks, CIO of Viterra, adds another: “CIOs who endlessly analyze both sets of systems in order to end up with a blended nirvana miss their targets,” he says. “Both companies are hanging on your decisions, but you leave them in limbo while you try to develop paradise.”

Clearly, the road to a smooth acquisition is fraught with peril. What can CIOs do to make it through?

Go early or go home. “Corporate development teams don’t like to worry about IT up front; they want to bring you in after the deal is signed,” say Rowland, who leads at least eight acquisitions a year at Nuance, which sells voice-recognition technology. “You need to buddy up to the M&A team, understand what deals are in the works, and get involved in the due diligence process,” he says.

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