Merging offices brings opportunity to grow IT department

A year from now our company is going to amalgamate two offices into one central location in the Midlands. As head of IT, what...

A year from now our company is going to amalgamate two offices into one central location in the Midlands. As head of IT, what sort of strategic plans should I be making in preparation for this - I am thinking of things such as my role in change management and staff retention. Isn't this a golden opportunity to dispose of the old and bring in the new?

The solution Opportunities and threats

Derek Newman

The IMPACT Programme

Company relocation presents both opportunities and threats for the head of IT. Negative effects will include diversion of attention from key business initiatives, potential loss of staff and increased maintenance on existing systems and IT infrastructure.

The challenge will be to use the momentum of the change to reposition the information infrastructure in support of the CEO's strategic vision for the company. The head of IT should have been fully involved in the executive team which proposed the relocation. He/she will, therefore, be very conversant with the reasons for such a strategic change. With one year to the relocation you should be using this knowledge to build a consensus with board colleagues on the extent to which they wish to use the change to achieve a future vision for the company. The plan could include costed options for:

  • Moving to a new IT infrastructure

  • Developing e-business and customer service

  • Introducing knowledge sharing to support the streamlined company

  • Assessing new sourcing arrangements for IT

  • Supporting functions as they reorganise to remove duplication.

    The strategic plan should also include an impact analysis on existing and planned developments. The CEO will expect the head of IT to develop a risk assessment for the programme and where appropriate contingency plans for loss of staff, disruption to business operations, IT security exposures and management stretch in both IT and user functions. The important outcome of this plan is that it is owned by the executive team of the company and fully integrated into the relocation programme. Good luck with the move.

    Increase customer understanding

    Chris Edwards

    Professor of management information systems, Cranfield Business School

    Research carried out at Cranfield a few years ago indicated that customers of IT departments were influenced by the quality of the "products" available, but were more greatly influenced by the service element surrounding these products.

    Clearly, you should take the opportunity to update networks, PC desktops and so on and I am certain that your technical staff will have strong views on such matters. Also you should clearly be involved in helping your customers through this difficult transition. However, try to further understand your customers and their needs, maybe via focus group discussions. At first, discussions will focus on "we want more of the same but faster, greater availability and so on".

    Try to go beyond this and tease out the more subtle points. Is it the personal visit from a particular individual who offers unofficial personal tuition on an unscheduled and unrecognised basis that makes your group appreciated? Or is it the flexibility your people offer in relation to deadlines or other matters?

    All too often we, with our logical IT-based minds, strive for efficiency and in applying logical systems exclude the subtle issues that make up for some of our products deficiencies: be careful in reorganising that you do not exclude such matters from your attention. Use this office move as a first step in increasing your customer understanding.

    Communicate with staff at all times

    John Eary

    Head of Skills Source, NCC Group

    You should take advantage of the advance notice you have, (12 months to plan is a luxury in today's fast-moving environment). Assuming there is an IS/IT strategy for the organisation, the first thing to do is to conduct a skills audit to determine your future requirements and identify current skills at each office. There is likely to be a gap between the skills required and the skills possessed by staff. If this gap is large, then one option is to "buy in" the new skills by recruiting new staff.

    In addition to the difficulties that may be associated with making staff redundant, you should weigh up the less obvious advantages of existing employees. They will be well versed in the processes of your organisation, are part of the culture and have established relationships with user departments. This may bring the benefits of good interpersonal skills and positive communication.

    It may, therefore, be easier to update the skills of your incumbent people than to bring in new employees.

    For those staff that you decide to keep you should start preparing the ground. At a time of change the worst outcome would be that the people you want to keep become unsettled and leave, while those who stay become demotivated. Clear communication is the key to maintaining good staff morale.

    Burn the dead wood

    Robin Bloor

    CEO, Bloor Research

    It could indeed be a good opportunity to burn some dead wood, but that does depend on context.

    If your own staff are involved then you need to do two things immediately. Identify quickly who you don't want to lose and find out what their attitude to the move is. Then get ready to replace those who aren't going to move. The reverse applies to staff you want to lose.

    Find out how to discourage them via legitimate means. In the meantime, there can be little doubt that you have a logistics project on your hands. I'd be inclined to appoint a project manager so that a budget can be set. There may also be another opportunity here: some IT directors have problems convincing companies to spend on IT infrastructure (even though it is a necessary expenditure), so it is often less healthy than it should be.

    Here is an infrastructure spending necessity which definitely isn't IT's fault. It's time to get the company to buy the things that are normally difficult to justify.

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