Secrets to managing M&A

As the average life of public corporations continues to decrease, Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) is increasingly a way of life for ‘legacy businesses.' But how do CIOs become a M&A enabler?

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The need for speed to business synergy

CIOs have repeatedly told me in the #CIOChat that technology is easy. It is people and process that is hard. For this reason, it came as no surprise, people and process is where CIOs feel the race to M&A synergy is either lost or won.

CIOs say that successful M&A is much more about people, process, and culture than it is about technology. Technology is seen by CIOs as a means to an end. M&A success, they stress, hinges on ‘soft assets’. One CIO suggested here if you can't solve the people and process challenges then no amount of technology will save an enterprise. CIOs believe that it should not be forgotten that leadership and culture can make the employees seem like the problem when they are not. CIOs feel that problems occur in M&A when throwing money at technology becomes easier than changing culture, people, or business processes.

Executives need to get their CIO involved early

CIOs, however, can play a significant enabling role in M&A. For this reason, business executives should get CIOs involved as soon as practical. With this said, CIOs say that they need the answers to the business questions as early as possible. They stress it is critical to know or, even better, be involved in defining the combined corporate vision? And as well, they say it is essential they know where the combined entity is going. They want what any other business leaders want: their executives to have a clear idea for what the future looks like. Only with this can they ensure the change required from a M&A is handled properly.

CIOs, being significant people leaders, stress that getting people behind a merger requires transparency. The vanguard CIOs that I get to work with, suggest that CIOs help surface the answers to the right questions. Without early involvement, CIOs stress technology assessment often is overlooked or underestimated in M&A. They claim when technology leaders are involved late in the process, this can be a problem with the fallout being poorly managing things in terms of people and processes. This of course speaks to the need for a CIO to be an integrated member of the management team especially where M&A is a way of life.

One CIO said at this point, having been through over a dozen M&A transactions during his career, he learned firsthand that the efficiency and speed matters to integrate the business. He continued by saying, “it may sound crazy, but I've seen people become the challenge and I have seen technology become the challenge.” It is critical, therefore, to make quick, smart decisions. CIOs, for this reason, say the focus should be on business goals and understanding the tradeoffs to moving in the selected direction.

Business synergy to be had with customers

CIOs believe that the business should actively be looking for the potential synergies especially for customers. This is where technology leaders can really help. They can help execute integration quickly where customer value is being created. Customer value should always be the best starting action from a M&A decision.

Communicating with business counterparts

Some CIOs suggest that early collaboration is critical during and after a M&A transaction. Often you don't know what you don't know during a M&A. Given this, they suggested there is value in using collaboration services like Slack to create cross organization and entity M&A communications. Obviously, video conferencing can act as a bridge for global teams working together and importantly, can facilitate the driving of a shared vision and strategy enterprise-wide. It is for this reason that CIOs suggest strategy has to work for people and process first. CIOs then can help people and process work together and ensure technology acts as an enabler of M&A goals.

Technology issues needing consideration

CIOs say with the answers to the business questions, the technology-focused questions center around the need to put in place a smart, holistic IT architecture and the operating principles for keeping and dumping systems. CIOs that show up to those talks with a mature CMDB, Service Catalog, and BIA can speed things up a lot for either in a M&A or divestiture. Technology can facilitate the process provided effort is made to leave bad ‘legacy dinosaurs’ behind.

Veteran Analyst Jack Gold ended this discussion topic by saying that most organizations post-M&A focuses on consolidating IT platforms, as opposed to making them interact. Consolidation is a much harder, longer to implement, and a more expensive path than integrating or linking. This matters, because the focus should be on keeping people productive rather than creating additional IT expense.

What are the biggest technical obstacles to successful M&A?

CIOs said here that many of the biggest technical issues are tied to organizational issues. CIOs suggest the biggest technical obstacles involve not having a clear picture of what the technology needs are based on your business goals or not defining goals for an extended customer and user community.

CIOs stressed here that avoiding technical obstacles requires clear goals for the combined entity post M&A. CIOs said, for example, old organizations can tree-hug and not want to let go of their favorite system. CIOs say that the interesting thing is the side with the better processes and technology doesn’t always win. It’s often the side with more political capital. This is a problem to quickly achieving the desired business ends.

CIOs say the biggest technical issues to M&A are incompatible processes and sometimes even the culture that governs these processes. Addressing cultural issues first makes the technology relative smooth.

To fix this, CIOs said it is important to set proper expectations with user communities as to what is changing and why ahead of time this is taking place. Part of doing this well involves listening regarding the impacts to people and process. To be fair, many M&As can involve portfolio rationalization and process integration. One of the simplest things you can do in M&A is to define a set of operation principles. These principles should determine what gets kept and what gets tossed. CIOs say that these really matter. It is important to decide quickly, communicate decisions, and move on. CIOs say if expectation setting is not done, user communities can ensure the failure of the technical solution.

To do things right, CIOs say enterprises need to focus on organizational capabilities, align those with business value drivers. What capabilities do we have and which do we need (people, process, and technology) to change? CIOs say as well that it is important to not drag a mountain of ‘Technology Debt’ in from either organization. At the same time, they said it is equally a bad idea to fire all the SMEs supporting the ‘technology debt’ before rationalizing /consolidating the portfolio. CIOs say that once the strategic reasoning for the M&A is place, the tech plan should focus on delivering to strategic goals.

It is important as well to realize that change by default is impactful. It's best to lump as much together as you can and then move forward clean. Like taking off a band aid, it can be better to rip it off instead of pulling it off slowly. Jack Gold said too often companies only think about physical assets when doing a M&A, and not how the human and "soft" assets all fit together. Due diligence must include things like tech assets, people assets, political assets, etc. Technology alone can't make a M&A successful.

It cannot be stressed enough that doing this right involves focusing on business outcomes. CIOs need to build the roadmap from ‘as-is to should-be’ quickly and execute steps forward incrementally. You need to move to execution and not get stuck in endless planning or consensus building. Analyze, align, and then get focused upon execution. Organizational change is hard even for good organizations. And IT immaturity can make things harder. And it is important to realize that when CIOs are spending most of their day keeping systems running, there is little capacity to address the change needed from M&A.

Are effective CIOs required for a successful M&A?

CIOs claim that if the CIO is effective, they are working in lock-step with their fellow executives. In fact, several CIOs said that if the CIO is brought into M&A as an afterthought it's probably safe to assume they aren’t valued. CIOs say that technology was probably down the list historically for M&A, but enterprises today need to move it towards the top.

Clearly, if the CIO is not involved early, they will be left out of the discussions and requirements/goals. This could set them and their organizations up for failure. IT will always be on a checklist, but high performing CIOs will be involved in NDA phase or immediately thereafter. Increasingly, CIOs should be involved and even leading the organizational change resulting from an M&A.

Role of asset management software

A few years ago, an article in The Economist  proclaimed the need in acquisitions for IT Asset Management Software. I asked in an era of hybrid architecture how does this change? CIOs said clearly you can't consolidate what you're not aware of. CIOs said as we move to SAAS/IAAS/PAAS, cloud/hybrid models—figuring these out still matters in M&A. CIOs who move to these models and leave organizations the same will likely suffer.

CIOs say the M&A environment certainly puts more emphasis on the notion that cloud management and resource management tools in general are critical. CIOs say, however, the basic premise of "know your assets" doesn't change. However, the process/data surrounding how catalog/manage assets has changed. Regardless of where it is configured, CIOs strongly believe that IT organizations should know their inventory.

The problem is that too many organizations don’t know what they have or where they +are. Beyond operational issues and looking at M&A synergies, it’s a huge security risk. Thorough assessment of assets physical and virtual are needed. CIOs say that they need architecture and mapping. The new world order definitely impacts the data models and capabilities required for getting high-quality, actionable intelligence out of such a system. 

Parting remarks

I was left with an interesting question in this piece. Are effective CIOs a requirement to effective M&A? Clearly, there are many challenges to M&A. It demands the CIOs be involved earlier. And that they help to better overcome organizational and technical challenges.

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