There is a merger in your future

Mergers and acquisitions have become a way of life across many industries. With vendors, competitors and in some cases their own companies consolidating at a rapid clip, enterprise IT managers and staffers at all levels have to stay on their toes in order to ensure job security.

Looking ahead to 2010, M&A activity will continue to be an almost everyday occurrence. So the big question is: Who will survive the turmoil?

Amid this ongoing consolidation, IT staff volatility has become an issue for everyone, from software maintenance teams to CIOs. Oracle's acquisition of PeopleSoft and the recent mergers of Harrah's Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment, as well as The Procter & Gamble's takeover of Gillette, are just a few recent examples. Many other consolidations are under way in the financial services, utilities, health care and manufacturing industries.

Three attributes will help IT workers in all levels at the turn of the decade: agility, the ability to learn new technology, and a thirst for knowledge about not only their own jobs and those of their co-workers but also those of their peers at companies in North America and overseas.

Take it from someone who has been through a few mergers. According to Barry Libenson, CIO at Ingersoll-Rand, in 2010, IT workers' value to the company will be based on how well they use and build on their IT skills, across their own companies and industrywide.

"If I'm a US$100 million company and I'm an acquisition target, I want to be as valuable as possible, even the most valuable, to the acquirer. [To become that worker] it's a good idea to build skills around mainstream, standard or next-generation technologies. More contemporary and less legacy is also value added," says Libenson.

Elsewhere, in financial services, where recent M&A activity has included many marquee names, it takes a lot of work for an acquirer to integrate the IT staffers from a target company. At UBS, a Zurich-based financial services firm with offices worldwide, juggling the needs of an expanded IT staff while integrating systems with existing business priorities is "a struggle," according to Seth Osher, a director at the company.

"In terms of staffing, [M&As] can increase the pool of workers, but it can also mean that you're first shackled with trying to redeploy displaced workers that might not meet your team's standards, instead of going outside the company [for their services]," says Osher. "In my experience, this is the single greatest challenge: maintaining existing focus and delivery while coping with the integration problems."

Although there are some upsides -- such as increased developer efficiency -- short timelines and coordination across many systems and business functions further complicate the process, he says.

This is a challenge across industries, adds Glenn Cullen, an analyst at Forrester Research. The business manager plays a crucial role in helping to attenuate difficulties in the postmerger entity, he says.

"They know not only business processes, but how IT implements those processes with technology," Cullen explains. "You need to make a set of business decisions, and to do that, you need a lot of input from the business analyst. If possible, you should use them from the acquired firm, if they have many of them in the first place."

In the banking industry, which will continue to see major consolidation nationwide, a worker is valued based on how much he contributes to keeping the organization in the black -- always key in financial markets, says Carlton Ahern, testing infrastructure architect at Zions Bank.

"A lot [of your success] has to do with where you're strategically aligned in the organization. How do you contribute to the bottom line?" Ahern says. "The second item is, how closely are you aligned to the strategic direction of the company?"

Across the banking industry, mergers and acquisitions are done in part so companies can acquire technology or market share. "You have to understand where in the organization you are and where you stand on the balance sheet," Ahern explains. "How effective are you? Demonstrate your effectiveness in the organization and industry as a whole, and 'meter' that."

Although there have been regulatory edicts pertaining to corporate human resources, there has been little pressure from government bodies to shape the way companies handle staffers following a merger or acquisition. One of the few examples is oversight by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, says Lisa Rowan, an analyst in IDC's human resources services group.

"Anyone that does government contract work, or plans to in the future, has to adhere to requirements around the retention of job application records, for example," says Rowan. "This is to ensure that the employer is doing the right thing with regard to hiring minorities and other employees."

Whether postmerger pressure is brought on by the introduction of unfamiliar technologies, an alien IT infrastructure and company business strategy, or the occasional regulatory guidelines, the best advice for IT workers as they look ahead in a rapidly consolidating business world might be the old adage "A rolling stone gathers no moss."

Make sure you continually build on your knowledge and network with your peers, and keep an eye on global technology development in your industry. By making those efforts, you'll ensure that you're valuable to any voracious acquirer.

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