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How to Finesse Post-M&A Collaboration

Best practices advice from my experience in overseeing UC&C integration following a major pharma industry merger

With M&A so prevalent in the market, I am reminded of some past experiences that today are quite relevant for our clients and the industry at-large. I joined Yorktel from Merck, where a 15-year run began in infrastructure, project management, and cybersecurity, and led to the role of collaboration engineering and delivery manager. In the latter position, I was responsible for the business-focused design and integration of global voice, video, and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) services for the then newly combined organization made up of Merck and Schering-Plough operating environments.

Seemingly simple activities -- like contacting a new boss or talking to new team members -- become very complex following the mega merger between large multinational enterprises, with facilities and employees spread across several continents. These now-complicated tasks underscore the importance of transparency and the depth of knowledge about each user environment needed to enable collaboration from day one.

IT Due Diligence
For a new corporate structure to foster productivity, technology must align with company culture and management direction, for both present and future environments. Lack of visibility leads many organizations to struggle with under-utilization, and find productivity levels going in the opposite direction of what they originally hoped. In a 2011 report, McKinsey Consulting noted that in its work on post-merger management, 50% to 60% of the initiatives intended to capture synergies are strongly related to IT. However, McKinsey found, most IT issues are not fully addressed during due diligence or the early stages of post-merger planning.

Conversely, if a haphazard approach to technology can drain value from an acquisition, then a company with flexible, streamlined IT can wield this knowledge as a powerful tool in choosing which deals are most attractive. At such companies, executives rationalize systems and make disciplined decisions about integration.

Post-merger, we see clients with varying levels of commitment to due diligence. At one end of the spectrum are those that "rip the Band-Aid off" and force in new technology, dragging their users chaotically through change. On the opposite end are the ones that take time to assess the situation, design properly, implement in phases, survey their users, and leverage data for informed decision making.

The Band-Aid rip method usually exacerbates an already tumultuous situation, leaving employees -- as well as technology leaders -- lost and confused. IT personnel are often tasked with deploying a daunting new technology in months, after coming from an environment where just evaluating new technology products took the same amount of time.

Organizations that fall into the latter group benefit from allocating ample time to conduct a comprehensive "UC&C needs assessment," allowing them to fully capture the current state of collaboration, existing resources, and future needs. Management can subsequently make a calculated determination on whether and how to leverage existing technology, or if it needs to start from scratch. Project delivery teams then begin their Herculean task with the added advantage of a clear understanding of before, during, and post-merger strategy.

Countless new variables that come with integrating two global teams and their respective business units, disparate corporate cultures, processes, and technologies in a single environment create an infinitely higher degree of difficulty. Exhaustive due diligence during the discovery phase allows transition teams to identify overlap, and eliminate redundancies to increase operational efficiency. Most importantly, company employees and contractors who use the technology remain productive.

The first step in understanding a new user community is to identify and interview stakeholders, their various use cases, respective needs, and demographics. Creating a user persona map that details findings will clarify these issues and help put the right technology in place to support each layer of operations and their respective functions before, during, and after the transaction.

Next is the technology assessment phase, during which technology leaders evaluate all systems in use by each department for their respective strengths and weaknesses. This review allows team leaders to consider the pros and cons of standardizing on one vendor compared with a best-of-breed solution that combines multiple vendors. As new teams integrate, identifying collaboration tools is among the most important priorities, preceded only by the network.

Knowing the Network
At the most basic layer, the technology leaders must answer several questions on network connectivity, functionality, and day-to-day operations. Understanding how people collaborate with internal and external stakeholders helps formulate 30/60/90-day plans.

A network assessment should address security, bandwidth, and performance. Using network monitoring tools to record network use over a one- or two-week period enables organizations to gain an accurate view of bandwidth usage and needs. They are also able to pinpoint any unauthorized applications that may be compromising current bandwidth availability. In addition, the high-performance requirements of voice and video communications necessitate intense scrutiny of carrier service level agreements (SLAs) about uptime, examining failover and contingency plans should the network become unavailable.

Along with the server and data center capabilities, technology leaders must thoroughly examine network capacity. Many global enterprises stream live webcasts for internal communications, investor relations, and human resources. Streaming inside the firewall is a different animal than watching sports online, especially for Fortune 1000 enterprises, in which 20,000 people from all over the world attend a single town hall. To provide a high-quality user experience, the network must be able to handle enough concurrent video connections.

Technology leaders must also give careful consideration to the backend service and infrastructure to determine the need for an on-premises, hybrid, or cloud deployment. Having made this decision, technology leaders are then able to create the appropriate service and maintenance model.

Factoring In Usability
Coming out of the assessment is a quantification of needs, or business case. In years past this information would typically only focus on financial justification achieved through reducing travel expenses. Today, enlightened business leaders are best served by concentrating on the "new" team's ability to collaborate anywhere. They should measure success by long-term productivity gains rather than saving a one-time expense.

A Booz & Company report shows that a common pitfall in merger integration planning is to place too much emphasis on the IT department itself -- specifically short-term cost savings from integrating IT resources -- and not enough on the IT requirements or new business capabilities needed to bring the company's other functions together or to support future growth. This occurs when executives from IT and the main business are not in alignment during the strategic framework, analysis, and design stages.

With the UC&C platform and supporting infrastructure selection complete, creating a roadmap that accounts for several usability factors is the critical next step. All users within the organization should have a single user interface; preferably this is widely familiar. Also important is integration with collaboration spaces, as well as core line of business and productivity applications. Connecting to people inside your organization is powerful, but being able to connect with customers and suppliers is what makes UC&C a game changer. Using technology that is federated is essential to enabling external communications. Users will need basic and technical support that's available anytime the system is in use to ensure a consistent user experience.

Assumptions on ease of use typically results in inadequate training, which appears as the most common culprit of failed UC&C deployments. When proper training or instructions are overlooked, users waste time figuring out how the system works, use only a small portion of the systems' capabilities, or abandon it altogether. Many times, it's not only the technical nuances of the new systems that stump users. Simple questions like, "When do I use that room type or technology?" or "How do I get access to a shared workspace in next-generation offices?" can be confusing in a new environment.

The organization should employ change management to inform the user community about impending changes, and follow up with substantive training programs. After the initial learning phase, ongoing training, supported by access to on-demand webinars, videos, and printed collateral that explain key features and functions, is necessary for sustained adoption. We always advise that the organization consider the collaboration environment in the same manner as information security, where user education is paramount. Employees come and go, and as IT service leaders we must maintain high levels of awareness of the technologies we deliver, which does not happen with a single session or email. IT leaders must continuously educate and communicate to realize optimal productivity from both our people and the technology we deploy.

I share this information in the hopes of furthering a true understanding of the customer perspective, and what is important to ensuring that UC&C serves as an asset following an acquisition. With firsthand experience of these pain points, I promise that incorporating this knowledge into each customer engagement will endear you to clients.