This was, in part, because success was also difficult to define. The IT shops I assisted were usually given zero budget to implement the business vision of the executive team; but even more important, IT leaders generally weren’t even told what that vision was. It’s no wonder that these IT shops ended up being reactive, frustrated and generally ineffective during the M&A process.
The lesson is that it’s crucial for IT teams to be at the table alongside executive leadership from the earliest stages of an M&A deal (and this is how I’ve since found success working with organizations during these complex periods of transition). While IT leaders aren’t involved in deciding whether or not to acquire another organization, their involvement can head off problems later on and ensure a smooth M&A.
The past couple of years have seen increased M&A activity and this trend is expected to continue in full force. To improve the odds of a successful integration, IT teams should have these four conversations with business leaders early in the process.
1. What Are the Business Expectations?
It’s absolutely crucial that IT leaders know, as early as possible, what the business expects. Will the acquired organization continue to operate as its own entity, or will it be folded into the acquiring organization entirely? Will the acquired organization retain its own IT leaders and staff, or will these people join existing teams? Will they continue to operate their own infrastructure and systems? And what is the expected time frame for transitioning staff, systems and policies, if applicable?
If possible, it’s helpful for IT leaders to review the actual M&A contracts. This review might uncover some information (such as a requirement to retain the other organization’s CIO) that an operations chief may unintentionally leave out during conversations with IT leaders.
2. What Is the Necessary Budget?
Typically, IT leaders will ask their finance department what the budget is for IT integration during an M&A. But this is backward; instead, IT shops should pencil out what it’s going to cost to add new users to their systems (and provision new users and sites with appropriate equipment), or the cost of retaining legacy technology, software licensing and IT contracts, and then present this number back to business leaders.
This will result in more realistic expectations across the board and prevent scenarios where IT shops are understaffed and underfunded during the M&A process.
3. How Should the Process Address Risk?
This is a tricky — but absolutely essential — topic of conversation. I’ve found that I need to be extremely tactful in bringing up IT risks with business teams to prevent being seen as a naysayer determined to cast a pall of doom and gloom.
It’s important to present IT risks in business terms. For instance, by noting that a lack of compliance with HIPAA or other data safety regulations could expose an organization to steep fines, IT teams may motivate executive stakeholders to take data governance more seriously during an M&A deal.
Sometimes, earlier conversations can help make the issue of risk more palatable for business leaders. For example, if an acquired organization is out of compliance with its software licenses, this could expose the acquiring organization to audits and fines. However, if IT leaders have previously had an in-depth discussion about the budget for IT integration, they may have already included the cost of new software licenses in their calculations.
4. What Tactics Should Be Employed?
Make sure the IT team is part of the M&A center of excellence — or create one, if needed. This group will be a cross-functional team made up of business representatives from operations, finance and HR. The center of excellence can be used to help define M&A processes and resolve unique issues as a group rather than having IT run the M&A process in a silo.
Finally, IT leaders should get into the tactical weeds by discussing the integration of individual systems and applications. For example, not only will IT and business leaders need to decide whether, when and how to migrate to a unified email system, but they will also need to consider details such as legacy email forwarding, email retention and even email naming conventions.
While problems and surprises will inevitably pop up during this stage, they will be fewer and more manageable if these important conversations have come before and details for success are defined by the M&A center of excellence.
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