Beating institutional inertia

Nothing is more important to a project's success than buy-in from key stakeholders, so it's particularly exasperating when an IT project aimed at saving the company money meets with resistance from IT and business constituents alike.

Savvy IT leaders know how to work through these political bottlenecks. Here's how two managed to break through organizational inertia to make their projects succeed. Their stories -- one from a decade ago and one from today -- show that challenges may change, but good leadership is a constant.

To help provide greater visibility into its IT spending, the finance and controller's office of VW Credit asked Harry Rabenhorst in January 2005 to determine the total cost of ownership for the company's hardware and software. VW Credit's IT department is responsible for more than 500 software applications, and Rabenhorst is its financial manager. So to nail down the TCO and make the process repeatable, he and other IT executives decided to create an enterprise software asset management program.

At the time, there wasn't an organization-wide approach to tracking software assets, and there wasn't reliable data about software depreciation, says Rabenhorst.

Implementing the asset management program required "a large change in our culture," he says, and luckily, his CIO supported the initiative.

But cultural change is hard. Some IT and business managers immediately resisted the idea of tracking the company's software assets, partly because of the amount of work that would be required of them. "The thinking was, 'We never did this before, so why do it now?'" Rabenhorst says.

It didn't help that one director didn't approve of the asset management project, since he viewed the effort as intrusive. Interestingly, virtually all the people in IT who resisted the project also reported to that person.

To get the company on board, Rabenhorst and his team took a variety of approaches, ranging from "extremely nice" to "extremely direct," he says.

The approach taken varied on a case-by-case basis, says Rabenhorst, but creating and maintaining open lines of communication with people was critical, and through good communication, "we were often able to gather information simply by asking for it," he says.

When that didn't work, Rabenhorst enlisted the aid of senior management to get the information.

The program was inching forward until it suffered a debilitating blow when the CIO left the company in June. Losing a vital sponsor for the project was "a major hit," Rabenhorst says.

VW Credit's service center director, who replaced the CIO on an interim basis, had more experience in sales than in IT, and his initial response to the asset management effort was "lukewarm at best," says Rabenhorst. Nonetheless, Rabenhorst persevered in educating him on the benefits, and over time, the executive bought into the concept.

That helped move the program forward again. For instance, Rabenhorst had been prodding one IT manager for over a month to provide information about some of his assets. The manager continued to resist until the interim CIO gave him orders to fork over the data. Rabenhorst received the information he needed within five hours.

It took about a year, but the program is now up and running. Information about the company's software assets is stored in a Microsoft Access database and from now on will be updated by Rabenhorst semiannually.

Rabenhorst believes in the benefits of effective asset management, but it took some time to convey that message to other people in the company. "It took a lot of maneuvering to show that what we were doing had value and would continue to," he says.

Sharing the wealth

About 10 years ago, when she was working as the director of the IT project management office at a multinational consulting firm, Ruth Harenchar discovered that the company wasn't fully leveraging its buying power with Microsoft. Instead of optimizing its software spending with the vendor through a global enterprise-licensing agreement, each business group had its own Microsoft contracts.

Harenchar began working with the CIO to try to convince senior business leaders that an enterprise licensing agreement would save money.

While the business executives understood the merits of IT standardization within their own departments, buying into this idea on a company-wide level was "something that they needed to be coaxed into," says Harenchar, who is now CIO at The Hobart West Group. Harenchar faced various types of resistance within the business. Some business leaders didn't want to share how much they were spending with Microsoft because they didn't want to put in the time and effort to find that information, she says. Others feared that disclosures might reveal a poorly negotiated deal.

So Harenchar set out to win the hearts and minds of senior business executives one at a time.

"I would take people out to lunch every couple of weeks and feed them information about what we were trying to accomplish and how this could benefit them," she says. "It was a little bit of 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours.'"

She gradually built relationships with the business leaders and was able to enlist their help. "It's a matter of gaining someone's trust so that they're willing to dig up the information on what's being spent," says Harenchar.

She was also careful to avoid missteps. One of her predecessors had tried to consolidate Microsoft licenses by recruiting a project team throughout the IT organization, upsetting several IT managers who felt they should control their people's assignments. Instead, Harenchar used "diplomacy and persuasiveness" to get senior IT managers on board before pursuing the team members she needed.

Harenchar also promised to share the glory -- and the savings. She told business leaders that she would give them credit for proposing the consolidation plan and would share cost savings with their units. "It's amazing how dollars saved will influence management," she says. "If the business units get to book the savings to their bottom lines, they really do cooperate and get out of your way."

If a business leader didn't cooperate initially, Harenchar showed him how much some of the comparable business units expected to save through the license consolidation and promised that she would help him achieve similar savings. Once she pulled the necessary information together, Harenchar hammered out a deal that saved the company more than 20 percent of its annual Microsoft licensing costs.

"I find that you do better with diplomacy in these types of situations," says Harenchar. "But you also need to show tenacity to get the job done."

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