The Big Picture

Don't overlook changes to a company's culture when undertaking a large integration project

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 14, 2003

3 Min Read

Your company has decided to integrate its business processes, and your IT staff has hammered out the technology details with the business executives. But how much have you considered the cultural issues involved? Better start now.

Integrating business processes means one thing to your employees: change. And that can make the personnel issues involved more difficult to tackle than the technology itself. "Resistance to change is human nature," says Flyn Gropack, VP of technology management at R.R. Donnelley Financial, which provides printing and information-management services to financial-services companies.

Resistance to change is human nature, R.R. Donnelley Financial VP Gropack says.

That's why communication is vital. "Before you integrate business processes, you have to have a really good reason. And if you do, you need to make it very clear to employees," says Maynard Wiff, VP of IT at Dover Corp., an industrial product manufacturer.

Obviously, the top managers and executives whose processes are being integrated should talk to one another about the changes. But it's just as important for them to communicate with the people whose work is being affected by the integration, such as customer-service representatives and factory workers. Often, employees' imagined reasons for changes are worse than the reality. People may see the integration of business processes as evidence that their jobs are in danger, or worry about having to relearn their jobs as a result.

Because meshing business processes means bringing together different departments, personalities, cultures, and workflows, "it's the hardest thing to do," says General Motors Corp. CIO Ralph Szygenda. GM tried to integrate its order to delivery several times before it worked, Szygenda says--and for that, he adds, "some people needed to be replaced."

When R.R. Donnelley Financial attempts business-process integration, the company puts together a "change team" to help get a sense of the different functions being connected. Also, the company has a continuous-improvement team certified in the Six Sigma quality methodology. "These people are unbiased, and we rely on them to be the voice of reason," Gropack says.

Robert Moon, VP of information services at ViewSonic Corp., can attest to the importance of team-building when integrating business processes. When the display maker decided to standardize on Oracle 11i two years ago, it meant integrating the business processes of its operations in the United States, Asia, and Europe. "IT brought the people representing these groups together," Moon says. "Since we touch every department, we were in a good position to do that."

That meant daily conference calls among 40 U.S. managers, 20 European managers, and 25 Asian managers. The collaboration that took place during the two-year implementation transformed ViewSonic's culture, Moon says.

"When we started the process, people in the different operations didn't know their counterparts in the U.S., Asia, or Europe," he says. "There was a great cross-pollination of ideas. Everyone knows one another better now, and everything works much more smoothly." And that, of course, is the point.

Photo of Gropack by Ken Schles

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