Mergers, acquisitions, integrations, divestitures. Any big business decision comes with equally big changes. Going through the process of a merger or acquisition is a stressful and uncertain time for many, as these usually come with significant cultural and operational shifts. It's up to company leaders to be in lockstep with one another and lead with confidence and a clear direction.

IT isn’t usually front-and-center when it comes to a merger, but in the last year, I experienced its importance first-hand, as my company completed a billion-dollar merger with another web solutions company. Nowadays, technology is a measure of the overall value of a company and can make or break competitive standing.

You don’t usually hear about IT until something breaks, and it’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen. However, bringing in IT early to evaluate technology needs is critical for organizational success. Any large-scale integration has an adjustment period, as workflows and platforms need to merge, but executing these integrations with minimal day-to-day disruption can pose a real challenge for teams that aren’t prepared.

Setting Expectations Upfront
From timing to priorities, CIOs and their teams have to know what they’re working against to deliver from start to finish. I knew from the start that a merger as large as this would be a huge undertaking, requiring a major migration to ensure that all the employees were on one platform.

It was a large undertaking to say the least, and one that needed to be done with minimal disruption to our day-to-day operations. In the end, we set up thousands of mailboxes and Microsoft 365 groups, migrating dozens of TBs of OneDrive storage, and hundreds of domains, putting the IT infrastructure in place to make the merger transition as smooth as possible.

While a transition like this might seem as simple as opening a different app for employees, making the move seamless takes plenty of unseen hours behind the scenes from IT departments. It falls on the CIO to communicate the plan clearly, ensure that everyone knows their roles, and oversee the plan’s execution.

My team devoted long hours to ensuring that all went smoothly during this complex, multi-stage user migration, which included integrating six separate companies. There were challenges along the way, but thanks to a clear vision established early on, the team did a remarkable job of staying focused and united throughout the process.

Architecting a Plan
Setting expectations ultimately means very little without an airtight strategy to boot, so CIOs need to make sure that they devise plans that are secure, seamless and agreeable for employees. Business transformation is a balance and layering of change and continuity that requires coordination with everyone, from legal teams to customer service, to the end users themselves.

IT can help think through the causes and effects at every level of operations. What processes are going to stay in place? What will employees have to learn or relearn? What saves the whole company from a massive headache?

Our team had to think through the deployment of standardized operations, security infrastructure and set of protocols companywide, and the development of a roadmap for our data center footprint. We were ultimately able to find a great solution, but attention to detail and spending plenty of time on planning were key drivers of success.

In PwC’s 2020 M&A Integration Survey, 62% of executives said their companies had an integration strategy in place when they signed their largest recent deal. A large majority also said integrating key areas was difficult though, and less than 20% of respondents reported significant strategic, operational, and financial success.

Even the best ideas can fall flat. Mistakes happen, and the best plans account for them up front. The leaders who build the proper safeguards into their strategies are the ones whose already strong blueprints are even more resilient resistant to error.

Remembering the Basics
In 2021, the U.S. deal market soared, accounting for $2.9 trillion in transactions, up 55% from $1.9 trillion in 2020 — and business leaders are only planning to continue making deals in 2022.

As this trend continues, organizations need to be more strategic than ever, which sometimes means going back to the basics. It can be easy for big changes to overshadow the small details, but the CIO and IT team should set a company-wide standard for how updates are communicated and how checklists are managed every step of the way.

Ultimately, big changes come with a lot of ideas and opinions. In dynamic times, IT teams need to cut through the noise and sift through what’s necessary and what’s extraneous to keep work on track. As a support organization, IT has a critical role to play in making any business transformation possible, and more importantly, successful.

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