By Cyndi Barreda
Doing more with less – that’s been the growing trend over the years in the government IT space. Over the last 20 years, new technologies, shrinking budgets and demands for greater efficiency have driven IT consolidation in the federal government and will continue to in the future. From the DoD Efficiencies Memorandum to OMB directives requiring 25% cost reductions, consolidation is no longer an option – it’s a requirement.
Consolidation offers the opportunity to provide the same or better service with a smaller footprint, improved security, and greater efficiency through standardization – or at least that’s what it’s supposed to accomplish. However, many organizations focus too much on the technology and too little on the organization’s mission and people, racing against the clock and consequently overlooking customer service.
Whether your organization is large or small, consolidation is about technology and cost savings. Whether you are implementing a single new solution, migrating all your users to a single domain or migrating data off end-of-life servers, the objective is to reduce duplication and increase efficiencies. It’s worth remembering that IT systems enable a mission, but when the IT becomes more important than the mission and the customers it is supposed to serve, customer service can become an afterthought and an organization’s mission can get lost.
An organization that fails to keep customer service as a top priority throughout consolidation will likely experience a number of problems. As much as consolidation is about the IT, humans still play a role. Unlike software and hardware, however, most humans are uncomfortable with change; we like routine, we’re comfortable with familiarity and we don’t like the unknown. As Rosabeth Moss Kantor says in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.” So it should come as no surprise that because consolidation is a massive change, people will resist, and in some cases even be fearful, which is exactly why organizations must focus on their users and customers throughout a consolidation effort.
For some users, change might mean breaking old relationships. Instead of walking down the hall to your IT shop and getting help from a familiar face – or choosing who helps you from a room of familiar faces – users might have to call a distant service desk that seems preoccupied with statistics and closing tickets, instead of focusing on resolving problems. Other users may have to learn a new application, tool or operating system because their old one was consolidated. After having years of experience and consequently a certain level of trust and familiarity, the user can find the newness and difference of the new tool daunting and frustrating. In other cases, users may be anxious about job security – either because positions may be consolidated along with the IT or because they fear they will be replaced because they can’t adapt to the new technology fast enough.
Each one of these scenarios runs the risk of user fear and frustration, decreased productivity, disgruntlement, or atrophy – all of which can be avoided or at least mitigated by placing an emphasis on customer service and communication before, during, and after consolidation. Systems integrators are the experts, and it’s their job to provide not only technical advice but also advice on how users are likely to be affected and how they might reasonably respond.
From the point of planning the consolidation up through the execution, systems integrators should ask themselves how every decision is going to impact users and their ability to accomplish their strategic goals. If an action is likely to require a user to change his or her role, daily actions or responsibilities, or learn a new user interface or sequence of actions, that action should be supported and partnered with careful change management. Systems integrators provide technical support and services, but at the end of the day what they are providing is customer service – providing their customers with the tools and technology they need to accomplish their mission. Customer support begins with excellent planning and ends when the users are operational and comfortable with a new systems reality that helps them accomplish their mission.
To read 7 steps for a successful IT consolidation, click here.