Every large IT project results in change – at least indirectly. The need for close collaboration between those responsible for IT and change management should therefore be obvious. However, in reality, this is often not the case. Many companies forego new IT solutions when implementing change projects, and similarly, many IT projects to not take account of the potential benefits of changing business models.
One main reason for this is that information technology and change management are worlds apart in most companies. IT managers and experts are usually located in different areas than those responsible for business processes and change management. This is borne out by the fact that only a few companies have an IT manager at the top level of management. On the other hand, change management expertise is not sufficiently well established in many companies. Executive board councils on the subject of “Processes and IT” or “digital transformation boards” would be a good idea in many cases. These committees determine the impact of changes, actively communicate this information to the organization, process the feedback, and analyze resulting potentials.
The potential of IT and change management can be exploited in full if the different perspectives are brought together to provide a holistic view. The key to successful project definition lies in the interaction between a company’s requirements and the opportunities offered by IT. Ideas that come from one angle can form an important basis for initial discussion, for example a requirement that results from observing the markets, the needs of a particular technical department, or new developments in IT.
An important starting point is the introduction of a strategy phase before the business processes and IT solution are redesigned. In this phase, all the relevant stakeholders, namely management, representatives of the technical departments, users, IT providers, customers, and suppliers, define how customer relationships are to be forged in the long term, for example. While a phase such as this postpones the start of a classical IT project, it creates a solid foundation for the subsequent rapid implementation of the project. In addition, the effort invested pays off over and over again by providing future-oriented solutions and processes and ensuring user acceptance.
The linear approach has had its day
Constant feedback is one characteristic of project implementation. The classical approach strictly separates IT and business processes and has a linear sequence: first a theoretical concept determined by the company management, followed by implementation as planned by people who at most were involved as interview partners but not as co-creators in the conception phase. However, this linear approach does not meet the demands presented by the increasing complexity of business processes. A “simultaneous” approach, which takes account of the learning process of all concerned and moves forward in smaller steps, seems more suitable here. This approach is characterized by the interaction between all the relevant stakeholders and an active negotiation and decision-making process. This does not merely involve basic, democratic, decision-making; to a far greater extent, it requires top management to make key, structural decisions quickly and transparently from the top down.
IT takes on a variety of functions in the change process
Change processes are typically carried out in five phases in which information technology takes on a different role. In phases one (“Break the routine – we need to change”) and two (“Create future visions – develop architecture, plan the route”), the impetus for change results from a conviction that today’s success may become tomorrow’s failure. It is necessary to let go, and break the present routine. At the same time, it slowly becomes clear what the future processes should be like. In these phases, IT generates impetus and acts as a catalyst, giving a wake-up call to the responsible project team, and creating imbalances. These release the energy required for change, and can result in a radical questioning of existing processes and the development of solutions to the problem of how to improve these through information technology, or alternatively may lead to the development of a vision of new business models that can only be created with IT.
In the third phase (“Make courageous decisions – take the plunge”), the change is made concrete through initial implementation. Here, existing processes that are no longer adequate are redesigned. In this stage, IT takes on a structuring role. Fast pilot projects, which show how changes can be implemented with IT, are important here. In phases four (“Systematic implementation – desire for innovation combined with widespread involvement”) and five (“Master top-level challenges – establish success”), the project must be implemented and established over a broad base in order to systematically extend and stabilize the new business processes. These two phases take longer than all those before them. The main task here is to ensure a constantly dynamic process and systematically implement change management. Many change projects come to an end in the third phase – far too early to ensure lasting change. As old structures have not yet been completely replaced, and the new ones not fully established, the risk of falling back into old habits is particularly high after phase three. In phases four and five, which are decisive for success, the role of IT is therefore to establish and stabilize the new solutions as widely as possible.
The right connection between IT and change projects
In order to find a suitable form of interplay between IT projects and change initiatives, it is necessary to consider the extent to which the company’s organization and IT systems will change. It is always necessary to connect IT projects and change management if a company is going to experience major changes in organization and IT. This is the case in mergers, for example, in which the organizational structures and different system landscapes of the companies concerned need to be integrated.
In a change project, the issue of the type of connection takes on central importance. IT perspectives and change perspectives can be connected either closely or loosely, and this connection can be integrated in a project explicitly as a project order or implicitly. The possibilities range from a conscious decision to work alongside each other, or using a “Trojan Horse” method – in which change management has an add-on function in the project without being specifically named – through to intensive collaboration. None of the possibilities can be ruled out at the beginning. While a conscious decision to work alongside each other is suitable if only limited modification is possible from a technical standpoint, close connection is preferable if reorganization is highly relevant from a strategic point of view, for example in the case of a merger. To ensure the long-term success of a project, it is therefore essential that the decision-makers have expertise in the areas of both change management and IT.