Change management

DEFINITION: Change management is a planned approach to integrating technological change. It includes formal processes for assessing the impact of the change on both the people it affects and the way they do their jobs. It also uses techniques to get users to accept a change caused by technology and to change their behaviour to take advantage of new IT functionality.

The online revolution has proved that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but don't expect that old dog to just roll over; it's going to bark and whine and chase its tail plenty before it gives you its paw.

That's where change management comes into play. It's one of those abstract topics that people pay a lot of money to attend seminars on, or get paid a lot of money to write weighty books about, but can't put their fingers on.

When it's finally boiled down, it's really about how to get users to accept a new business process - and the technology that enables it. Change management is something project leaders, business analysts, applications developers, help desk staffers, trainers, managers and executives should understand and practice.

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Not every information technology project requires formal change management techniques. Upgrading from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 or switching to a new voice-mail system isn't likely to create tremendous angst among users. But new applications that fundamentally alter the way a group of people operate, both as individuals and as a whole, and the way they relate to suppliers, customers and one another will create a lot of anxiety.

Face it: an SAP implementation, the introduction of an extranet to deal with suppliers or the creation of an e-commerce site are going to change the routines for everyone from top executives to administrative assistants.

Not only will they have to master a new technology, but their roles in the corporate universe may also become drastically different. At the very least, they will have to acclimate to doing their daily work in a completely new way.

In some cases, that's not just anxiety-provoking; it's downright terrifying. And change-management advocates say IT professionals who may feel invigorated by a new technology often fail to consider the ramifications of users' distress.

"When humans confront rapid change, they get frustrated, freeze up, get rigid and rebel against the changes. They aren't as adaptable as IT expects them to be," says Marianne Hedin, research manager at IDC's consulting services research program and author of the report, Change Management: An Analysis of Market Trends, Growth, and the Competitive Landscape.

"IT professionals tend to see things in black and white, and in change management, there's a lot of grey area. It's about emotions - anger, anxiety and frustration."

Walk the walk

The best way for an IT professional to get his mind around change management, Cooper says, is to walk a mile in the user's shoes. What if you're a hands-on programmer accustomed to inventing applications from scratch, and your department decides to convert to libraries of reusable code?

"There may be perfectly good reasons for the change, and you will still feel frustrated, powerless, as though your skills aren't as sharp," Cooper says. "All of those are natural responses, which result in the diminished performance of the new system if they aren't managed."

What role can you play in reducing user stress and increasing acceptance of change?

The keys, consultants say, are finding business champions for the IT project, including line workers in the development and design of the new system, constant communication about progress, reiteration of the case for implementing the new business process and education and training.

Finally, remember that you can't separate the three components critical to the project's success: people, processes and technology, Gary Kissler, a partner at Deloitte Consulting's change leadership practice, said.

"The statistics bear out that the cause of the large failures we have seen is a lack of attention to the abstract, touchy-feely things," he said.

Whether IT can lead change management or simply be a partner is up for debate. Since a big IT project such as an enterprise resource planning implementation is likely to be driven by business objectives, some say IT must assist with, but not spearhead, measures to garner acceptance of the new system.

On the other hand, "If you get an IT person to imagine what this process will look like a year after the system implementation and work back from there, there's no reason why IT can't lead change management as much as anyone else," said Dan Cohen, another partner at Deloitte's change leadership practice, who is co-authoring a book on change management.

"Think about how the system will be used in the future, because then you're not just thinking of the technology, but how the technology is interfacing with people and processes."

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