Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

My world, your world…systems led change and why it fails

Over the last 9 months, I have been working with a client who is going through as significant a trauma as perhaps I’ve ever seen. Because of an aging population and obsolescent IT infrastructure, he is embarking on a systems led change process which will effect the entire operation. The implications of failure are not worth contemplating in terms of their knock on effect for the group as a whole. It’s a classic example where the operational infrastructure which supports the business has been underinvested in for many years and the success of the business has created a divergence in terms of demand and potential supply which is untenable going forward.

Whilst that in itself is not unusual….I suspect that there are many of you who have similar experiences….the thing that has struck me in the last few months is the interaction between systems vendor and business user. There is nothing about that relationship which gives me any encouragement that some kind of solution can be reached. Lets examine this at a more granular level.

People: For the vendor (my world), his employee base is young, systems literate and dependent at a personal and business level, transaction orientated, motivated by the development challenge and the business solution, used to operating in short intensive periods and then moving on to a new situation, bonus orientated based on performance criteria which are tough but motivating. The employee carries the solution / technology as part of his personal franchise which enables to him to climb in terms of career. He speaks IT and revels in the incomprehensible nature of that.

For the client (your world), his employee base is older, loyal and long serving, process orientated and expert in the business challenge. He / she works steadily, enjoys the uniqueness of his situation and knowledge and carries this as a badge. He is risk averse and knows that this knowledge protects his employment. His language is a barrier, spoken only by those in his position. The processes he / she uses are part of his DNA….they have become part of his daily life as much as reading a book, getting dressed in the morning are. He / she could no more describe them in a rational, process orientated way then she could describe the process of taking a shower!

Process: For the vendors employees, the process which they use has been etched in their brains since they started their young careers. Methodologies, systems development lifecycles, testing, business requirements, proof of concepts, tightly drafted scopes of work and change request processes….all are designed to reduce complexity and customisation. The very lifeblood of their business is based on development of product ideally in partnership with a customer and then commoditisation with minimal customisation, thereby achieving a dividend for the shareholder.

For the clients employees, the process they’ve adopted has become an extension of their personality and is entirely unique. There is a familiarity to the different activities which is extraordinary. Any process change represents almost a biological change and certainly an ergonomic change, both of which are highly stressful and likely to result in a loss of productivity and concerns therefore about future employment / performance.

Attitude to change: For the vendor, change is the only thing that matters…ultimately it is the basis on which the business has been formed. However it is change which is external, ie at the client. For vendor employees, resistance to change in terms of process, tools, methodology is high, in part because its actively discouraged by the owners, but also it challenges their subject matter expertise.

For the clients employees, change has taken place relatively frequently as the business has grown. However, the fundamental activities have remained constant, the change that has taken place as been incremental, not disruptive. The latter is a step into the unknown, that reduces the employee to ‘amateur’ status rather then the ‘professional’ they have always been.

And so, battle commences…and the potential for yet another failed systems change! I will look at ideas on how to resolve this next week…would also welcome your comments and experiences in this arena.

Categories: Change management, Consulting, Systems led change

Tags: , , , , ,

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