With so many mergers taking place, Mahmood Reza advises that careful consideration is given well in advance to bringing together respective IT systems.

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The consideration of a merger includes the preparation of the business case for merger, and if it is the right strategic option for those involved. Some of the many other issues to evaluate include the compatibility of IT systems. Regardless of the eventual organisation’s size, budget or primary focus, everyone will recognise the need for an effective IT solution to support their objectives. Every solution is bespoke to an organisation’s individual requirement, so the merger of two or more of them can seem a daunting task. Getting it wrong can lead to delays, budgeting over-runs, and more problems than you started with, but it can also be an opportunity for a 'clean-slate' approach, enabling you to solve irritations and 'work-arounds' of previous solutions.

As soon as a merger of two or more organisations is decided, you need to start considering your IT requirements and possible solutions. The longer the time period for planning and implementation you have, the more chance unforeseen problems will be uncovered and resolved quickly. So aim to involve your IT consultant or in-house staff at the earliest opportunity in the merger process. They may raise points that have not been considered by others, and will certainly thank you for the head-start on preparations.

You do not want to have to go through the process of upgrading your systems in a year or two because you did not keep the future in mind

You need to have a clear idea of your IT requirements right from the start, and stick to it. Changing your requirements mid-way through the process will cost you more and delay the project. Any mistakes made this early will only be amplified as time goes on. Remember to look towards the future when deciding your requirements. You do not want to have to go through the process of upgrading your systems in a year or two because you did not keep the future in mind.

As obvious as it sounds, communicate with everyone involved or affected by merging IT systems. One of the worst things is where members of staff are unaware why something such as email is not functioning all of a sudden, and will be more forgiving and patient if they know about outages in advance. Keeping everyone 'in the loop' will save you time in the long run.

Both organisations will have some IT resources that can be amalgamated and reused. The purchase of new monitors and peripherals for everyone may seem like a good idea, but may not be the best financial choice if the old ones are perfectly serviceable. Assets such as monitors, peripherals and software licences can all be re-used, and the cost savings diverted elsewhere to improve other elements of your IT solution.

Take some time to identify possible IT problem areas of the merger. Issues such as differences in how the organisations format and store information, use different programs to complete the same task, and differing back-up processes all need to be addressed and standardised where possible. Make provisions and allowances for processes that may result in disruption internally, and between you and the outside world. Renaming websites, creating new email addresses and issuing new IT accounts for everyone often takes a little time, with old and new systems running side by side to minimise downtime.

Two areas that need particular attention are online ticketing systems and websites. Online ticketing systems vary in their complexity and sophistication and play a critical role in marketing, administration, cashflow generation, customer-profiling and communication. You will need to identify which of the two systems is more appropriate for your use, or whether to go for an entirely new system, as well as look at existing licence agreements, hosting needs, switchover periods and timetabling.

Regarding web migration, you will probably wish to maintain the history and legacy of your previous site. It is possible to instruct the web server to ‘permanently move’ (or forward) a specific URL to another location; spider bots will then update the necessary links. This is standard practice and works with all web servers. You will need to identify if the web content is database-driven via a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. If so, the forwarding is programmatically added. If for any reason the content has been manually generated, each page would need to be manually forwarded, which can take a significant amount of time.

Domain name registration and mail server set-up typically take 72 hours to propagate worldwide so you would need to consider what would happen to your emails in that period, one of the simplest solutions being to set up email aliases.

Once you have successfully merged IT solutions, be sure to document important processes and information. Make sure that more than one person knows the process of how to back up your data, store a list of your passwords in a secure location (preferably in a signed and dated envelope to maintain integrity), and get into the habit of keeping this information up to date. Things such as network diagrams are also a great help in getting new IT staff or consultants up to speed.

In my opinion merger activity is likely to continue but careful planning, consideration and involvement of stakeholders (including staff) are vital to ensure a smooth transition.

Mahmood Reza is Owner-Manager of Pro Active Resolutions.

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