In a way, it's easier to talk about integration as an IT problem. After all, if it's technology, it can be fixed. Granted, it might be wicked expensive to fix it, but most of the time, it can be fixed. Business silos, cultural barriers, people these integration problem areas are much, much harder to address.
Maybe that's why I so seldom find anything written about it for an IT audience. These "soft" issues are always the rub, aren't they?
1-to-1 Media just published an article examining the perplexing problem of how to overcome these "soft" issues. It's an excellent read, and unusual in that it shows how two companies overcame these very issues: Belgacom, the largest telecom in Belgium, and Wolters Kluwer, a global publishing, information services, and consulting company. I particularly liked the story of Wolters Kluwer, which, thanks to acquisitions, had 75 databases it needed to integrate.
From their examples, I took away five steps you can take for dealing with the "people problems" of integration:
- Market integration, then sell it to employees. This is easily undervalued step, but at Wolters Kluwer, it proved crucial to breaking down the cultural barriers that help create and maintain silos. The CIO worked with the sales and marketing director to launch an internal education program about integration. Rather than focusing on integration for integration's sake, Belgacom's CEO promoted a "Customer is King" concept. He also went on tour, explaining the concept to the company's 16,000 employees.
- Get an executive-level sponsor. This is the most repeated piece of advice in IT, but apparently, it really works. (Big surprise, right?) It was essential to the success of the data integration effort at Wolters Kluwer, according to the head of MIS. And at Belgacom, the CEO himself took the lead.
- Make someone accountable. That's generally good advice if you want to get something done, and it worked for Belgacom, which assigned responsibility for processes to specific people.
- Work with the business units-even when it means listening to those who are opposed to the integration. Critics became champions when the CIO focused on listening and sharing information at Wolters Kluwer, True, not everyone was convinced and sometimes, the article notes, you have to be willing to "lose people," which I suspect means firing them. But dialogue can go a long way. In fact, at Belgacom, leaders had no other choice. The telecom is unionized, so its leaders had to sell union leaders at every step.
- Demonstrate-and publicize - real results. Nothing convinces others like success, so take a page from Wolters Kluwer, and run a few quick-win integration projects that demonstrate what can happen when you break through silos. Then focus on real results. For instance, Wolters Kluwer started by showing what happens when IT, marketing and sales consolidated their customer view and ran targeted campaigns based on that information. That allowed the company's Tax and Finance group to triple its revenue target from a single campaign.