Congratulations, you have been integrated

Off the record...

I work as a senior manager for a small high-technology engineering firm. We were recently acquired and integration is now being inflicted upon us. One of the early integration targets was corporate travel. For the first time since the genesis of Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, and their ilk, we have a corporate travel agent whose use is mandated for all travel. If there is anything more useless to a bunch of brilliant engineers with Web access and smartphones than an old-fashioned travel agent, it's hard to imagine what it is.

Our accounting and timekeeping systems are now being integrated. By integration, the parent company means ditching our systems and force-fitting us into their less appropriate systems. The timekeeping affects the line engineers the most. We are subject to total time accounting and therefore everyone must record their time daily. Our old system was junked in the name of "integration" because a different system that was already in use by the parent company could import time charges into their accounting system directly. Our old system required one person to perform two steps, both of which were almost completely automated. The cost for removing these two steps is the almost complete lack of user-friendliness in the new system. When, for example, a user adds a new task to their timesheet (something that happens regularly), the program requires seven mouse clicks, compared to two for the old system. Some may consider this only an annoyance but it is emblematic of the poor design of this system. Features in our old system that improved productivity of the engineers and managers -- such as automated notification of new job numbers, charge limitations, notification of timesheet submission, approval, and rejection, and simple report generation -- are all missing in the new system. In the name of IT system integration, we have achieved a giant leap backward functionally.

As if the poor functionality wasn't bad enough, the implementation has been completely botched. The first day the new timesheet system went live it had to be taken offline. Most employees' job numbers were missing from the system so hardly anyone could record their time. In a total time-accounting environment, that cannot happen. A week later the system was back online, but there were still huge problems with missing job numbers and incorrect workforce entries. The Finance and IT team implementing the system then informed the line managers that it was our responsibility to fix the errors they created during the conversion. User documentation for the new system was generated and distributed, then re-generated and re-distributed, then just re-generated and loaded onto an intranet site for us to discover. Those of us who made the effort to discover the latest version of documentation found it didn't help. Errors in the implementation of the system caused it to operate as a series of workarounds so it didn't match any of the documentation versions.

Pondering all this, I have to ask a simple question. My division delivers large-scale, scientific data acquisition, processing, and storage systems to government customers. We make sure requirements are well understood and documented, that user interfaces are well thought out and easy to use, the system is well-tested and stable, and documentation is accurate and useful. We take pride in our work which is reflected in our excellent reputation with our customers. If my group failed a customer as miserably as our own internal team failed us, the customer would fire us, and for good reason. Why can't our internal IT group be held to the same standard?

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