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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.

A Single Database, or Multiple Databases for a Global Company? 02/09/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in Database.
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A Global Information System (GIS) can allow a company to have a single source for data. Multinational companies have the opportunity to have one database that can be used for all agents in every country around the world. This database could handle all transactions relating to a single application. Borders become blurred when using technology to connect disparate locations of a single company.

The single database model can enforce a unified process across the entire company. Using one database for the entire company can provide measurements and reports that are valid for every department. Reports can be compared between countries because data can be consistent across business units around the world.

Any company that does business in multiple countries could use a GIS. A logistics system would track all products in every country. Warehouses would connect to the same database to query and enter inventory quantities. Availability of parts could be determined not just be warehouses in a single country, but by the closest location.

A CRM application would provide complete break-fix reports for products. Every country would report on problems with a product. A company could easily determine how to proactively improve their products for every country out of one database. Having a single source of data allows the company to synchronize their presentation to their customers.

Why use a global database?

A global database is needed to standardize data from around the world. A Global Information System (GIS) can allow a company to create reports for all countries and regions that can be compared against each other. A single instance of a database could be an amazing resource for understanding the position of a company.

In the CRM world, there are so many different processes that one could not even attempt to catalogue them, much less count them. Whether that process is good or bad, it should be very similar no matter which country a customer is calling from. An English speaking user should get the same process results as a German speaking customer. The data that is collected in Japan should be very similar to data collected in Canada.

Why not?
Creating a single instance of a database can be a daunting task. It requires that users from disparate locations have equal access to the computers. It means that all users must have some form of understanding of a language that is agreed upon. Users will have to compromise on customizations. There must be some fields that have to be in a common language.

All affected divisions of a company would have to agree on the front end software allowing the users to have a single view of their data. Managers wanting improvements would have to schedule their customizations in cooperation with managers around the world. Processes would have to be similar in order to enter the correct data into the database.

The servers that deliver the database would have to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because of differing schedules of daytime and night, there are always offices who need live access to their data. Bringing the system down for planned maintenance becomes a coordination effort of massive proportions.

A single database would most likely have a single set of servers, meaning one location. Connecting to those servers becomes slower based on numerous factors. The network needs to be robust and fast. The number of users could slow down a system that isn’t scaled correctly.

Maintenance must be handled by a group of people who are not only technically efficient, but able to communicate in any language. Problem calls would come from any country in every language. The company must have a way to handle any call about problems with the database. Internal support is a critical factor in getting everyone to keep using a single database.

If technical people are using a shared database, they will inevitably find a need to create their own solutions. They will create a personal database on their own computer. They could create a small database that is shared with their group. They might even come up with a workaround to highjack the existing database and load it with their own information. Keeping a single instance of a database requires that every be convinced it is the correct solution. Managers must make sure that their groups follow the rules covering the global database.

If a company has the need for a single source of data, they will need to determine how to use a single database. There are many ways to come up with an answer to that problem. The trick is finding a way that accomplishes the same functionality with a sustainable return on investment along with a system that is usable and supportable over the long term.

Currently many global companies have separate databases for their business units that report differently. So a financial office in Russia would connect to a different database than the financial office in Boston. The customer facing agent in Japan would use a different database than the agent in Switzerland. The reporting group for finance might use a different database than the logistics group.

Different databases allow a company to find the best of breed application for any geographic area. This probably works great for individuals and small groups, but has problems when reporting is needed at the top. Reports must be created by merging all of the different data together. This requires very technical skills and a lot of time to do properly.

The data warehouse is another solution that is popular. The warehouse will normalize all needed from any number of different systems. This works well if the company has the money and resources to support that environment. Of course, what they are doing is creating a single source of data not unlike the single global database. Data warehouses can be expensive and difficult to maintain. They certainly have their value when done correctly, but starting with a single global database might be a better answer.

This is just my 2 cents; I’d love to hear your opinion.
Remember, it’s a global world out there, and technology makes it happen