Business Systems Transformation | Straight Talk

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Companies typically update one IT platform at a time, to reduce the risk of failure. This CIO and his team took a clean-slate approach, transforming the company’s three main platforms simultaneously – and realized some unexpected benefits.

By Vikram Pamarthi, Chief Information Officer, VIAVI Solutions

Over the last two and a half years, our company underwent a dramatic and simultaneous migration of our three biggest IT platforms: customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and business intelligence (BI).

At the start of the project, our primary objective was to provide the business with scalable, secure, and cost-effective business application platforms across all business functions. We wanted our business users to experience ease of use, transact with efficiency, and integrate seamlessly within applications, internally as well as with our external business partners. Of course, we also wanted to build a stable application foundation to enable both organic as well as inorganic growth.

We asked ourselves, “What modernizations do we bring in that could lay the foundation for future growth? How do we standardize business processes and adopt best practices that would bring in efficiencies? What manual processes can we automate between all three platforms and how can we scale each of them in a way where the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts?”

As you can imagine, a transformation of this scale required a lot of hard work, difficult compromises, and ongoing change-management training. That work continues today. But here is what we have learned so far.

Change Management and Adoption

When we started this journey, we knew there would be some dissatisfied or frustrated employees, especially since we would be converting three major systems at once. These systems had been operational for many years and users were conditioned to conduct business – such as the simple processing of transactions and using reports to make critical decisions – in predictable ways.

Because business users would have to go through a steep learning curve, effective change management would be crucial for successful execution of these large transformational initiatives. For example, reporting is a process near and dear to our business users. Over the years, they had built up hundreds of reports and dashboards that supported day-to-day operations and rolled up to executive management. Rebuilding and replacing all of these reports was not a practical solution.

To combat this, our team took stock of the most critical reports by business function, then recreated them in the new platform with some semblance of familiarity. At the same time, we encouraged and demonstrated newly available features that helped users to run better reports and get their work done faster. It was a balance between leading them with what they were familiar with, while showing them what was possible when they changed the way they look at their work.

That said, it was really a double-edged sword. We did not want our employees to stick to the old way of doing things without taking advantage of the new features. But we also did not want to frustrate them with a lack of familiarity to the point of discouragement or outcry. We had to balance where to draw the line, not only with our BI migration, but ERP and CRM, as well.

Of course, taking this clean-slate approach required several critical early-stage steps: executive support, a much longer runway, cross-functional coordination, business partnership, training, and change management planning. We initiated and successfully executed our cutover activities during a holiday period to take advantage of normal downtime. The early gains have been promising.

Important Lessons and Benefits

One of the biggest benefits of migrating all three platforms at the same time is tighter integration between all three and ultimately better performance when launched together. Although the level of effort is more substantial, doing this resulted in dramatically improved levels of process automation. This has contributed to overall operational efficiency and reduction in break-fix incidents, resulting in higher customer satisfaction. And an extra bonus is that now IT resources have the bandwidth to focus on new and value-added services.

Going in, we knew that program management would be a key to success. An integrated timeline across all three tracks, with critical milestones for each, was required for alignment and governance. Our focus was on critical long-lead-time activities to ensure the deliverables stayed on track and, more importantly, to help manage scope. To ensure a smooth process, we worked with business stakeholders to actively monitor progress and de-scope non-business-critical requirements before adding them back in after critical tasks were successfully completed.

One important lesson: digital transformation should not be perceived solely as an IT initiative. The foundation for a successful outcome is always to have a solid business partnership. In IT, we call our applications “business systems” or “business applications,” because they are the ones that support and enable business processes. It is always important to engage business users every step of the way, have an open dialogue, listen to their needs, and inform them how IT can help and bring additional value to the initiative.

The Takeaways 

Although difficult to pull-off, upgrading several platforms at the same time can enable tighter integration, better automation, and ultimately greater scale.

In a change management setting, carefully balancing familiarity with next-gen features is crucial to inspiring workers without discouraging them.

Digital transformation should be viewed as a business user initiative, one that IT supports.