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Spin Off 07/23/2010

Posted by TBoehm30 in Project Management.
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How does a company chop it’s IT in order to spin off and sell a part of itself?

I just read an excellent article by Mike Gorsage from Tatum about Integrating IT for Mergers and Acquisitions.  In the second half of the article he talks about “Planning for Separation.”

 This got me thinking about when I was consulting with Agilent as they were getting ready to split the company and sell part of it to Philips.  Agilent had just recently split from HP and some of the IT was still, unofficially, shared.  While HP and Agilent were two different companies, there was a shared culture that allowed people to communicate easily.  People at Agilent had come from HP and were comfortable with how things worked there.  Now some of them were being ‘sold’ to Philips and it had to change.

 Agilent had to figure out what IT the new company would take with it.  Some hardware and software would have to be duplicated, some would have to be given, and some would not be part of the sale.  They had to figure out the same thing with the IT team; however it is much more difficult to duplicate a person.

 I was working on their CRM system for the call center dealing with medical machinery.  HP/Agilent (now Philips) produced monitor type equipment for hospitals and doctors.  When the equipment had problems, they called the response center in Atlanta.  The call center would specifically be part of the sale to Philips.

 The CRM system, Clarify (now owned by Amdocs), was highly integrated with the back office system.  Corporate Agilent decided that the back office system would not be part of the sale.  Since Philips and Agilent, along with HP, are competitors in some arenas, the new company could have no access to proprietary data.

 That meant we had to get all of our data off of the old system, into a new system on a very tight timeline.  We had to update our CRM system to integrate with SAP instead of the old HP system.  With the help of some very smart people, we got the CRM system up to speed within our timeline and on budget.  We figured out how to download master data from SAP: the customers, contacts, products, and contracts.  We figured out how to send back to SAP the data it needed for tracking, billing, etc. 

 During the building move we managed to move all of the hardware over the weekend, so barely anyone knew it happened.  The call center is a 24 by 7 operation, so it had to be done carefully and quickly.

 The biggest problem turned out to be migrating data from the back office system to the new SAP system.  The contracts in the legacy system were confusing, not standardized, and big.  Agilent had a large team of people who came up with a plan to pull the data, clean it up, and then put it into SAP.  It would take weeks of processing the data after it was pulled, to clean it up enough to get into SAP.

 Agilent set up the deadline of when to be out of their system.  If the new company missed that deadline and needed continued access for another month it would cost Philips a lot of money.  We missed that deadline and had to extend.  Agilent doubled their fee the next month and would have doubled it again had we needed another month.

 By that time, I suppose, someone decided enough was enough, and called it done.  We had enough data to proceed and make it work.  Since I was not involved directly with old back end system, I have no idea what data we lost.  I can only imagine it was significant.

 With the new company complete, we worked on better integration with SAP, the politics of the new culture, and improving the call center.  Philips had bought several medical companies that would join us and we had to integrate them next.

 Most of the companies’ call centers were moved into our building and so we eventually shared the CRM system with them all.  We shared the phone system, and the other infrastructure that allowed us connectivity to the internet, intranet, and each other.

 Philips wanted everyone to use SAP in the call center.  We quickly did benchmarks and comparisons to show corporate how much extra it would cost to get rid of the current CRM system.  They acquiesced, at least temporarily, to allow the legacy system.  Their idea was still to get rid of it, and that theme was seen in numerous meetings.  We managed to continue the use of Clarify, even against the wishes of some big-wigs at Philips IT.  Eventually it was expanded to other countries around the world.

 The thing that Philips did right was allow the best technology to continue being used, and even invested in its future.  While they had alternate plans, the old systems worked well and could not easily be changed so they didn’t change it.  Their alternate plans were shelved, and new plans created to better the company as a whole.

 Philips had the people who understand it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

Why work at a Call Center? 02/04/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in Call Center.
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I spent many years working in a “Call Center”. It was a place where customers call in to voice their complaints and get help with their technical problems. If you like doing tech support, and fixing problems, this was a great place to work. If you were Tier 1 and didn’t enjoy small talk, this was not the place for you.

A typical call center has several levels, or ‘tiers’. Tier 1 will typically take your information, enter your case (problem, ticket, etc.) into the system, and evaluate your need for services. They could possibly look at your entitlement if you have a contract or warranty with the company. Some Tier 1 people are allowed to try to solve your problem. They would usually have a script that guides them through all of the well known problems. (“Did you try rebooting?”)

Tier 2 is supposed to be the knowledgeable people. When a Tier 1 agent gets stuck, or can’t help, they will transfer you to Tier 2. Some companies may have another level that may be called Tier 3; at my location they were the ‘factory’. Some companies have field service that can come to you, or stores where you go to them.

Think for a minute about the Tier 2 superstars. If you get good enough at solving problems, you may want to move up to Tier 3, or out to the field. The call center most likely has a career path for you to follow. The company wants to keep you and has plans on how to do that.

If you are a field agent, you may want to stop travelling and be a Tier 2 (or Tier 3) agent for a while. Most call centers will provide their employees the option of switching. Some places even require their agents to switch roles every so often.

How about the Tier 1? Where I worked, they just answered the phone, put your contact information into the system, documented your problems and transferred you to the correct Tier 2 group. Were they learning anything? Were they challenged in their jobs? Did they have a career path? This was actually a topic of discussions for many management meetings. The turnover of the Tier 1 people was terrible – they constantly had to train new employees on how to use the CRM system. There was quite a bit of knowledge needed to use the system properly and transfer users to the right group.

They eventually made changes to get the Tier 1 people involved in other projects. They helped test the CRM system; they worked on Disaster Recovery Plans (DRP). They got to be involved in other parts of the company if they had the skills. This slowed turnover, but eventually a new problem was noticed: Where do new Tier 2 people come from?

The Tier 2 folks were usually technically oriented people who went to a lot of classes to learn the technology needed to solve the problems of the customers. These people were not typically Tier 1 because they had too much knowledge and skills for those positions. This meant that the company was paying for quite a lot of classes and training.

My suggestion to companies who run a typical call center is to change the model. They need to allow the Tier 1 folks to get the training they need to move up to Tier 2. That solves both of the above problems. They have a career path for their Tier 1, and they find new Tier 2 people. Of course, that means planning with the Tier 1 people on how they do their job. That could be plenty of change management.

I hope you have enjoyed my call center philosophy. If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them.

Remember, it’s a global world out there and technology makes it happen.