Your Company's Perfect. Now Change.

 
 
By Joshua Weinberger  |  Posted 2003-07-01
 
 
 


I've deployed lots of what would be considered "traditional" technology projects—to eliminate waste, save money, drive out costs. But any truly successful technology project is really a successful business project first—with a technology component. I did a lot of quantitative analysis early in my career, translating information into insight. I spent 16 years at Procter & Gamble in marketing and sales, focused on what consumers need and want. That's now at the core of my view of technology: Are we adding value to the business? Are we generating insights into our customers? More often than not, that requires change.

I love change. It's hard to be a technology pro- fessional these days otherwise. But you can be overzealous in pushing technology. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many resources. You can't effectively create change in too many areas all at once. You have to be able to say, "This is a great idea, but not now." The organization—or the customer—may not be ready. You need a very good understanding of what the business is trying to do.

Occasionally the roles seem reversed: a business person may be pushing for a technology initiative, and I've had to say, "Now is not the time. It's too expensive." That's a surprising position to find yourself in as a technologist: pushing back on an initiative that's really a very innovative technology—but it's important that I have a business hat on.

Years ago, when every process was paper-based, the mean time for transactions was enormously long. Today, it's enormously short. As a result, you have to have an outstanding change-management mentality, especially when change is unexpected. When I was at Quaker Oats, we had begun a long-term project implementing SAP for the supply chain. It was well under way and going extremely well. Then we were acquired by PepsiCo, which was moving in a very different direction, and we had to change course. (That meant taking on PepsiCo's Oracle platform and i2 and a model of shared technology services.) There were cultural struggles in saying, "We're taking something that's working and stopping it because it's not directionally right."

When a project stops, you know you'll be absorbing a cost, but there are people involved, too—people who may be emotionally vested. That's a different kind of change management, almost like a grieving process. Their new motivation will come only from understanding what the business is going to gain. We had to establish that the end result was important enough to endure what it took to stop that other effort: Transitioning from one integration to another in order to align with our new parent. When you lay out a goal like that, you have to communicate, communicate, communicate. It's basic change management, in the face of constant transformation. We're always changing technologies or architecture, project priorities or the portfolio of initiatives. But we're changing for a reason.

At P&G, I was put in charge of technology for the Noxell Corp., a cosmetics business that had been acquired a few years earlier, but maintained as a separate unit. My job was to finally integrate it. Noxell had been running fine on its own, but it had begun to acquire a heavy cost burden. It might have been easier had it been integrated right away. First of all, people need to feel a part of their new company. As long as the division remains separate, they never really feel like insiders. I've seen quick integrations that are painful, but better to get your pain over with right away.

Technological change can be driven by personality. When I was coming to Office Depot, I tried something simple: I sent the CEO, my soon-to-be-boss, an e-mail. He responded, which was both a good and bad thing. He responded immediately—but at six in the morning. So now I knew he had a user's handle on technology—but I also knew he'd be sending e-mails at six in the morning. Some things, I suppose, never change.

Patricia Morrison is the chief information officer at Office Depot. Previously, she held that post at Quaker Oats and at GE Industrial Systems.