Managing change

CIOs may not always initiate change, however, they have to manage it. Changes can be unsettling; hence they should be managed appropriately.

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By  Alex Ma'louf Published  July 26, 2005

|~|Jackie-Beedie-Body.jpg|~|Beedie: The change management process should be taken seriously.|~|Change is the only certainty in the world of business. Enterprises are looking towards their IT department to facilitate changes, whether they are specific applications and software development or more wide ranging and encompassing staff, strategy and asset management.

If there was ever proof that technology is integral to businesses retaining their competitive edge, then it can be found in change management. Broadly split into three categories, change management covers every aspect of technology applied in the world of business and comprises the buzzwords of today’s IT sell — security, cost and efficiency. However, traditionally, change management has focused on software development and creating a clear process throughout the application lifecycle, right from the very inception of a project to deployment and beyond.

Since application development has become more complex, project managers are turning to change management tools to assist in developing, deploying and maintaining software solutions. “Within the context of software, change management is a key piece of the operational model of any IT department,” says Mazen Omair, Websphere, Lotus and Rational manager at IBM Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan.

“Basically, as organisations are developing new applications and new systems, they need to review how they are managing to control those changes to their applications, so they know what they are changing, when it needs to be changed and which one goes into production. Developers need to have a structured approach to design,” Omair explains.

The concept of change management in the application arena is often applied in the government and banking sectors where there is a need for customised applications such as web-based solutions. While seemingly straightforward, creating an application from the ground up is a complicated process.

“Let us say a bank has the idea of building an e-banking solution. They have to go through several stages of design and specification even before they reach the actual coding and compiling the solution,” says Byarne Rasmussen, Computer Associate’s (CA) vice president of technology services in the Arab countries. “The bank has a number of developments as it goes through a series of phases where you have end-user and quality tests. If something breaks one has to go back to the well-defined checkpoint and start from there. You may lose a day or a week but you don’t lose three months of work,” Rasmussen adds.

The process does not end there, however. Maintenance follows the deployment stage, and end-user feedback has to be considered to ensure all the necessary requirements are met prior to the second phase of the deployment. This in essence is application lifecycle management.

Even though the whole process may seem overly complex, Rasmussen believes businesses such as banks must invest in change management tools if they want to avoid costly mistakes. “There was a case in Denmark of a big bank that developed its own application. The bank used Java but it was not authenticated, so the user who sits on the other end does not have proof they are communicating with the bank. It had 1.5 million users who couldn’t access their web accounts because a programmer forgot to renew the Java certificate on the back-end of the application. We were called in and asked to manage [such a small] mistake.”

The benefits to business are manifest and increase with the size of the project undertaken. For the Middle Eastern enterprises looking to expand internationally, change management is not only desirable but also essential to comply with international standards. If a company cannot meet these standards, then it could risk losing out on business opportunities in other regions.

What usually impacts the value realisation of these solutions is the size of the development team. If there are two or three developers and they are sharing the same room, the communication process is relatively easy. “The second variable is the level of professional best practices being deployed. A lot of organisations, even at the regional level, are looking at certain levels of international certification in terms of the quality of development. They require to use these tools to ensure quality standards,” notes Omair.

According to Jackie Beedie, regional sales manager at Al Falak, change management is a new concept for regional enterprises, which seek the help of external programmers and IT resources to build their IT infrastructures. Developing applications is a major investment and corporations need to protect their source code and ensure the application cycle runs as smoothly as possible. “Most companies provide lip service to the concept, but in actual fact ignore application change management. Enterprises that do not have such a solution are wasting money and also affecting productivity,” argues Beedie. ||**|||~|Robert-Keay-Body.jpg|~|Keay: An essential part of the pre-implementation process is knowing what end users want out of their quality strategy.|~|One end user that has noticed the difference change management has brought to its day-to-day operations is the Gulf Insurance Company. The Kuwaiti insurance provider turned to Serena to automate its change management process to track application issues such as priority levels, submission dates and the action its IT team has to take when designing, deploying and maintaining applications.

“We have a strong issue management and tracking process and the solution allows us to manage version control for the software and the source files. This has enhanced the whole development cycle, from the initial changes to the testing and to the deployment not only from the management of the source file, but also to having an audit trail history of what was changed, when and how it was changed,” says Osama Tyoan, assistant general manager of IT at Gulf Insurance Company.

This is in sharp contrast to Beedie’s own experience when he first arrived in the Middle East in the early 1990’s. At the time, IT design teams were using a whiteboard to indicate who was using what file. “I actually wrote a system for application management when I was working for the Government of Bahrain. Today, the concept is taken more seriously due to international compliance. However, there is still a long way to go for the business community in the region.”

The impact of Serena’s application management solution has been so notable the company is looking at purchasing other products to complete the change management lifecycle. It wants to keep track of its daily business affairs and allow collaboration between its IT staff and users. Processes in application development are faster, easier and can be effectively monitored.

“There are no more delays in terms of manual requests and by automating the user feedback process, we can design a form that provides clear information on the application. We are able to know exactly what the user issue is, and do a load balancing when it comes to workload of individual programmers. It has helped us bridge the gap between users and IT.” IBM’s Omair estimates the adoption of change management will rapidly grow over the next two years as businesses recognises the competitive advantages that they can derive from putting in place defined criteria.

These standards often start at a higher organisational level. Managing change on a higher level means that CIOs have to play their part. For any corporation looking to implement a quality strategy, the IT department has to focus on a number of issues.

“Organisations need to spend time with various departments, defining their end-to-end processes, involving staff in the implementation of the strategy and assisting them in understanding how their processes contribute to the output of the organisation. Processes alone do not paint the full picture. They need to be tied to performance indicators and linked to financial measurements which will ultimately illustrate the value of implementing the quality strategy,” explains Robert Keay, managing partner at Ethos Consultancy. “An essential part of the pre-implementation process is knowing what end users want their quality strategy to achieve. Objectives should be set, but in such a way that they also [deliver] results,” adds Keay.

Communication plays a significant role in managing change effectively at an employee level. If the two parties are conversing and understanding each other, then the new strategy or process will be implemented smoothly. If there is no common language, the gap cannot be bridged; hence the risk for failure increases. “There are many documented cases where companies have tried to install new technologies or systems without considering the impact on social systems or without giving thought to how it will be received by workers. The result is usually an expensive failure, with employee reactions ranging from simple misunderstanding to outright sabotage and organised labour actions,” says Tony Alam, managing director at Computer Network Systems (CNS).

A change that is under consideration is best approached in a formal manner. Businesses should consider all those processes that are otherwise thought of as tedious and time-consuming formalities. In addition, external consultants should be brought in to facilitate the processes in order to avoid failure.

One company that has seen its fair share of changes is Sun Microsystems. The very nature of the IT industry has made Sun’s upper management take change management seriously. The vendor runs online change management training internally for its staff. Sun’s own strategy is to focus on its staff and process. Sun follows four basic steps when brining in changes.

“The first stage for us is to identify the champions who will drive the change. We then envision the future state, ensuring this is communicated and understood. Rather than just sending e-mails, the champions discuss the benefits of the change in person. They also identify concerns and provide answers. This is rounded off by regular updates on progress, both on the payback and the issues encountered,” says Graham Porter, marketing manager, Sun Microsystems Middle East and North Africa.||**|||~|Tony-Alam-Body.jpg|~|Alam: Communication plays a significant role in managing change effectively at an employee level.|~|The vendor’s own experience of change management has made it believe that when change management does fail, it is because the focus has been on the new solution being implemented rather than the employees. Approximately 80% of the issues related to change are with people and processes.

For example, when an energy provider in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) decided to introduce changes, the process did not work that well. The company in question rolled out process management applications and provided the necessary training. However, the employees did not take the training process seriously because they were not comfortable with the new IT tools. Finally, the company decided to provide incentives to encourage its workers embrace the change.

“Statistics show that 80% of IT system failures are the results of poorly managed change. As the markets progress, they become more demanding; hence organisations need to implement new technologies to upgrade existing systems in order to cope with market demands. A reliable IT environment would be a prerequisite for any business that wishes to be successful,” states CNS’ Alam.

Furthermore, it is becoming a common practise to ask IT departments to manage tasks in areas outside of their traditional remit, such as human resources. As technology becomes an integral part of corporations, CIOs have to weigh up how they will best put into effect a change management structure that will not overwhelm existing resources.

“Take any asset, primarily around IT— PCs, servers, laptops, any piece of software installed on a laptop is an asset as it links back to a contract with a vendor from where you bought software, either Windows, Office or any other solution. And now you have a lifecycle again, which needs to be carefully managed,” explains CA’s Rasmussen. For CIOs of big corporations who have to manage large numbers of employees, resource availability and management skills play a significant role. If human resources are managed well, the ROI can be enormous.

“At some stage an enterprise has to say, ‘I am not at a size where I can manage my employees and resources by just having two IT staff. I need some more tools.’ Enterprises have to manage that process in an automatic way otherwise two things will happen. Costs will surge and the company will not have any control of its business affairs,” he adds.

Corporations should provide its employees with all the necessary tools they need and then manage those resources. It should be part of the IT lifecycle and managed by the human resources department.

CA’s internal change management structure is modelled along these lines. For each job there are well-defined criteria covering everything from equipment, security and the internet access rights. When a new employee record is created, an automatic request is sent to the IT and purchasing departments. Every PC is labelled with a barcode that is scanned by the IT team and the software requirements are uploaded onto the PC, along with an asset management application to ensure the new staff has access only to predefined data, the correct mailbox and also the right applications.

“That is what needs to be done when it comes to managing a new process. Change management is about the enforcement of policies. We scan every PC at least once a week to make sure our employees comply with the company policies in terms of what is installed, and how it is configured,” states Rasmussen.

CIOs will also find that change management tools will assist them in providing their organisations with a high level of security. CA’s security barriers allow the company to monitor employee usage of IT resources and enable the IT team to take full control of every employee’s workstation. The knock-on benefit of monitoring tools is that corporations can document the actions of its staff.

While not the most appealing aspect to staff, such a feature is coming to the fore as international requirements specify that certain areas of business, banking for instance, should document employee behaviour. “If the worst comes to the worst and you are suddenly sued by a vendor over misuse of software, your job is at risk. This is a claim that you cannot answer without documentation. We have customers who call on us for change management help. We do not get any explanation for the sudden request, but we know it has to do with the misuse of software. These compliance issues need to be brought to the attention of the management right away,” maintains Rasmussen.

Essentially, any form of change is about improving business performance and change management tools are no different. With technology taking a pivotal role in how companies operate and do business with each other, the IT department has to step in and manage a company’s assets, including its employees, along the lines of security, cost and efficiency. CIOs have a difficult act to balance in terms of managing change and communicating it to those outside of the IT department.

“As for 100% success, there will never be a pre-cast change strategy that can fit all. However, there are elements within any change strategy that are crucial for its success: Clear and coherent change objectives; adequate IT tools that can work as a catalyst, not as an obstacle for change; internal communication with all parties affected directly or indirectly by change, and most of all, the ability to measure and calculate adaptability levels of change,” explains Alam.

There may not be a sure fire process for effective change management, but CIOs should take note from the experiences of other regional businesses that have successfully managed to change their structures— be it at the application level, human resources or for security concerns.

“Successful organisations say: Be concerned with creating a good business model. Be concerned with consistency. Keep your feet on the ground. Keep your finger on the pulse of the market and your competition. Keep your eye on the bottom line and keep it simple,” advises Ethos Consultancy’s Keay.||**||

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