Getting a Handle on IT Change Management

Change is inevitable. It's also challenging. Here's how a managed approach to IT change can make transitions less painful.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

June 24, 2024

5 Min Read
Change management in organization and business concept with consultant presenting icons of strategy, plan, implementation, communication
NicoElNino via Alamy Stock Photo

IT change management is a method used by a growing number of organizations to communicate and implement business and technological changes. The process offers a structured approach to managing people and processes throughout an organizational change. 

Hilary Lee, national people and change lead at business and technology advisory firm Centric Consulting, views IT change management as a way to successfully drive technology adoption forward. "By reinforcing the actual adoption of a new technology, businesses can quickly show a return on their investment," she says in an email interview. "That's the ultimate goal for any change practitioner in the tech space." 

Change management is often overlooked or undervalued, leading to failed initiatives. It's imperative to recognize the significance of change management and to integrate it into the entire project lifecycle from the outset, says Kim Strumwasser, head of client strategy and advisory at BUILT, a technology-focused management consulting firm. "Ignoring change management until the end can result in costly setbacks and project failures," she notes via email. 

Reaching for ROI 

Change management gives organizations the ability to achieve their anticipated ROI, engage with affected employees, and minimize business disruption. "Change management is the difference between success and failure," says Beth Thomas, a partner at technology research and advisory firm ISG, in an email interview. "It ensures an efficient process that gets the business and its employees to adoption and business readiness." 

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"Organizations want their business value realized -- plain and simple," Lee says. Yet technology is only part of the equation. "The ability of people to understand and use that technology is the key to success," she notes. "When people feel empowered, knowledgeable, and supported through a technology transformation -- via intentional communication, training, and coaching -- the benefits of the investment come much sooner." 

Getting Started 

Defining the final goal and ensuring alignment across all stakeholder and user groups is the best way to begin any IT change management initiative, Strumwasser says. "This involves agreement on the end goal, effectively communicating the desired outcome, and obtaining buy-in from the team and all impacted user groups," she explains. "This ensures a unified vision and commitment to the change process from the outset." 

Lee says that change management requires digging in, understanding the affected individuals, and crafting practical and actionable approaches to addressing their needs. "An early change readiness and impact assessment is the true superpower for technology adoption," she suggests. "The assessment helps project teams see around the corner to what might be showstoppers to a seamless implementation." 

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Proper Planning 

During project planning it's important to engage leaders and influencers from across the organization. "This means executive sponsors who can make decisions, break down barriers, and reallocate resources, as well as the business owners who will benefit from the solution and have a point of view on how it should work," Lee says. 

Representatives of all affected user groups should also be planning participants, Strumwasser says. "It's best to err on the side of inclusion rather than leaving out a potentially affected group," she advises. On the other hand, too many people can delay progress. "By rule of thumb, have at least one to two people per user group involved from ideation through program execution." 

One size definitely does not fit all, Lee states. "One of the reasons change practitioners love their job is that it's never the same challenge from project to project," she notes. Every organization has a different culture, which defines how people work together, make decisions, and experience day-to-day activities. "While there are certainly best practices, you will not be successful if you apply a cookie-cutter approach to technology adoption." 

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Avoiding Failure 

Seventy percent of transformational change efforts fail, Thomas observes. The top causes are leaders who aren't equipped to lead change, employee resistance, and lack of preparedness. "If you don't have a change strategy and execution plan, your transformation will be part of the 70% and your ROI will not be realized," she warns. There will also be costly mistakes, including poor employee engagement, staff turnover, slumping productivity and bad first impressions that will be difficult to recover from. 

Lee says it's also important to gauge the current saturation level of staff and management personnel to determine what other changes they may currently be facing. "This influences the types of technology adoption tactics that will make sense." A planned initiative may be delayed, for instance, to a calmer, less stressful time. 

Parting Thoughts 

Organizations don’t change, people do, Lee says. "Humans are complex and adapt to change in very different ways," she notes. Lee feels that change management helps people believe they can learn new things, become more productive, and provide greater value to their teams and the business. "Seeing that spark when someone builds a new skill and feels a sense of accomplishment is what keeps us doing what we do as change practitioners." 

The only thing that's constant is change, Thomas observes. Change management helps to guarantee the ROI of any transition, transaction or transformation. "Change management assures business readiness and adoption through communication, training, executive stakeholder management, leadership support, and other change readiness activities," she says "It’s not a nice-to-have -- it's a must-have." 

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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