Coping with change is one of the most common yet profound ways an IT director can lift business performance. Adam Burstow explains how to do so successfully
In a £2.4bn deal BT sold its property portfolio and transferred 400 staff to the newly independent company Telereal early in 2002. Incoming IS director Adam Burstow faced a massive and critical change management programme for IT.
"On day one as a new company, Telereal was using BT's systems, servers, applications and networks," he recalls. "I was given two years to move over to our own IT infrastructure. I had to develop a strategy to achieve that, sell it to the board, and then implement it."
Three years on, what did he learn from the experience?
Start as soon as possible
"For the first six to nine months I focused on keeping business as usual going, and rolling out some small applications, but I did not do much to the systems. Although we got everything done on time and to budget, it's vital to start as soon as possible to avoid a rush at the end. We had to replatform every desktop, laptop, business application and IT security systems."
Keep close to the business
"It was very useful for me to be on the executive committee and have good relationships with the chief executives, chief operating officer and the other directors. It positioned me to be able to deal with issues as they emerged.
"We also put in a lot of effort to maintain good relationships with our external customers, primarily BT, who always knew what we were doing and was happy with progress.
"When it came to delivery we had clear business ownership and good relationships with all our internal user groups, who always knew how they were gong to be affected by the change programme.
"One director told me afterwards that he had expected it to be a nightmare, but that in fact it had gone really well."
Get the change programme governance right
"It's important not to over-plan and be too mechanistic in your approach. Be careful about setting annual objectives, as they could well be irrelevant by the end of the year. It's better to set quarterly objectives so you can remain flexible and responsive.
"To improve communications further, I have now set up an IS steering committee with four key executive committee members on it, and I took on an IT strategic advisor, a senior former IT director."
Communicate IT strategy effectively
"Don't overburden the business with a 50-page IT strategy document. I now have a one-page version which is on the intranet and available to everyone.
"I also now have a direct report whose job is IT communications manager. It costs 1% of my IT budget to communicate what we do in IT, but it's a very good investment."
Sort the IT team early
"You need to address staffing issues promptly. Identify and deal with those who are not performing well. It's unfair, both to them to give them work they are not happy with, and to the rest of the staff who otherwise have to pick up their work.
"IT got kudos from the successful delivery of the IT infrastructure project because it showed value to business. There's a strong correlation between the success of the IT department and the happiness of its staff."
Be prepared for the next change programme to follow on
"With the infrastructure in place there was an immediate torrent of opportunities for new applications."
Adam Burstow is IS director of Telereal