Change — a constant challenge

"Change management" is an over-used term, but it's vital that major IT changes be implemented correctly, says Ken Karacsony

Change is inevitable, especially in IT. A company can’t continue to rely on the same technology that was successful yesterday and expect to be competitive today. It’s vital that CIOs and management staff search the horizon for the latest technology. They must also have an intelligent strategy for implementing change.

The challenge for IT is to successfully manage change in a rapidly evolving environment. Here are several common challenges must be understood and managed in order to facilitate change:

1. Company politics : Understanding the political tenor of your organisation is imperative if you are to foment change successfully. I find that in general, the level of corporate politics is directly related to the size and age of the company. The larger and older a company, the greater the political gamesmanship. However, every organisation has some measure of politics.

If you suspect that the powers-that-be are change-averse for political reasons, remember that people are more inclined to listen to the voice of an outsider than to that of a company employee. For that reason, I find that engaging consultants is an excellent way to neutralise company politics and initiate change. Since employees don’t have bonds with the consultant in the same way they do with co-workers, they are more inclined to listen and be receptive to the recommendations that are given.

2. Degree of change: It’s important to know where your company is on the technology scale and understand exactly what change you hope to implement. The bigger the change, the harder the road to success and the more fraught with danger the journey.

For example, moving from an object-oriented architecture to a service-oriented architecture isn’t too much of a jump. But attempting to implement a service-based architecture when the current state is Cobol on the mainframe involves a high degree of risk.

In situations that require a major move to radically new technology, take extra time in the planning phase. Spending the time and money upfront will significantly reduce risks later as the project moves ahead.

You must also reassure staffers that they will be given the appropriate training and support to acquire new skills if necessary. For example, if the bulk of your programmers are Cobol-literate and the company is moving to Java, alleviate the programmers’ insecurity by investing in training.

3. Senior management support: Like water, change flows much more easily downhill than uphill. Attempting to initiate change from the bottom or even from the middle is difficult. When upper management is fully engaged and supportive, success is far more likely. If you are a lower-level manager with an idea for change, look for an upper-management sponsor to help you sell the idea, gain consensus and circumnavigate roadblocks.

4. Success of past technology uplifts: The more successful you’ve been in the past, the easier it will be to sell the latest initiative. If past efforts failed or were only marginally successful, you’ll need to work hard to regain credibility and trust.

I once worked for a company that decided to retire its mainframe and implement an open systems architecture. It was a rocky road. The costs and timeframe far eclipsed the estimates.

From that point on, IT was under constant scrutiny. We had to work especially hard to convince executive management to approve virtually every new initiative, regardless of the size.

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