Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time: Global IT Transformation Edition

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While the current political climate gives the appearance of more separation between countries, many global companies are choosing to consolidate at least some part of their IT and communications infrastructure.

Today's technologies offer a flattened approach to distributed communications, which was unapproachable until recently. Organizations can choose to host services in data centers geographically dispersed around the world, provide seamless follow-the-sun contact center support, and gain efficiencies through standardization and centralized support models. While the advantages of standardizing onto a global platform are attractive, getting there can be daunting.

As with any successful program, breaking the transformation into manageable bites is key.

When determining how to approach multinational ICT transformation initiatives, organizations must first understand how their global organization is structured in relation to technology initiatives, and what the primary motivators are for transformation. Consideration must be given to both major and minor factors, as well as the priority of each area. Some factors to consider include:

  • What are the goals of the transformation?
    • To standardize across the organization
    • To outsource some or all aspects of ICT
    • To modernize
    • To reduce cost or shift from capex to opex or vice versa
    • To Improve efficiency, security, or reliability
  • Is the current support model centralized or distributed?
  • How are company resources such as contact centers and manufacturing distributed?

When initiatives cross borders, the more obvious considerations listed above are important. Another equally important, but often overlooked component, however, is understanding organizational culture and structure. One example of cultural considerations that can impact IT transformation is how decisions are made. Is there a headquarters location in one country that sets direction for the entire organization, or can different parts of the organization make independent decisions?

Global organizations can be structured in many ways, for example, with separate companies for each country or for each product, or they can be organized around functional divisions and departments. While some multinational organizations centralize decision making at the top level with minimal autonomy at lower levels, others maintain autonomy at all levels. As companies grow, sometimes through acquisition, separate ICT functions and systems often evolve, making them challenging to manage, expensive to maintain, and inefficient for corporate-wide communications.

If decision making is distributed throughout the organization, gaining consensus becomes more critical. Where decision making influence is distributed, cross-organizational buy-in is essential. And understanding corporate culture is critical to understanding how to create that buy-in. Even in a highly centralized organization, obtaining early buy-in from key stakeholders ensures success as the transformation moves forward.

While cross-organizations buy-in is important in any transformation project, it can be particularly delicate in projects extending across borders. For example, is stakeholder engagement best accomplished through face-to-face meetings versus video or conference call? How important is it that communication occur in the native language of each country to ensure grass roots support? If these factors are overlooked, global organizations looking to standardize and streamline can face substantial hurdles.

In addition to obtaining support, global corporate culture also plays a role in determining the type of architecture and support model that will best fit. In a highly structured, hierarchical organization, staff across all countries and divisions will have relatively the same approach and understanding. In a hierarchical organization, therefore, it may be easier to localize support through a distributed, premises-based, or localized cloud model. In a less structured organization, where different approaches are used in different countries and departments, deploying a hosted cloud architecture may provide the best opportunity for global standardization.

Corporate culture is also a consideration in determining whether to use a direct global manufacturer, integrator/VAR, or carrier integrator approach. Several manufacturers have moved onto the global stage with strategic presence and global data centers. A few carrier/integrators also have cross-border presence. For manufacturer led, carrier led, or integrator led approaches, a primary consideration is how providers plan to service and support locations in different countries. Understanding how the provider services multinational programs and if the approach aligns with the organizational culture is imperative to success.

Organizational culture plays a key role in any IT transformation, but is particularly critical for global initiatives. The first step to success, therefore, is understanding the multinational structure and culture.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.