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Merger on the slopes

Merger on the slopes

As any smart CIO knows, technology is rarely the key issue when rolling out a major project — it’s generally people and/or company culture issues that can make the difference between success and failure.

As any smart CIO knows, technology is rarely the key issue when rolling out a major project — it’s generally people and/or company culture issues that can make the difference between success and failure. This fact is something we’ve seen consistently demonstrated at the CIO Leaders’ Luncheons and at various CIO conference presentations. I mention this because I recently came across an interesting example of this principle in practice but with a slight twist — the merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq in New Zealand. Worldwide, analysts have been — and still are — speculating about the wisdom of the merger and its chances of success. In New Zealand, however, there’s been an additional impetus to help smooth the merger process — a charity event that benefits Cure Kids, a division of the Child Health Research Foundation.

The charity event in question is the annual HP 50K of Coronet, a 16-hour overnight downhill endurance ski race between 10 ski teams — nine of which are flown in from overseas by Qantas, another sponsor of the event. This is the third year the 50K of Coronet has been held (usually in late July) and this year raised a stunning $265,000 for Cure Kids.

For those of you who have had little or no contact with downhill racers, I can assure you they make the average bungie jumper seem extremely conservative. (You wouldn’t catch me skiing downhill at 130km/h — I can’t even fall off an indoor climbing wall that fast.)

HP, as the primary sponsor, not only provided funding but also developed and ran the race management solution which provided real-time race results, plus maintained the associated website (www.hp50k.com ), which this year included multiple streaming webcasts. As an amusing aside, the race management solution this year incorporated transponders attached to each skier’s leg, as the optical system previously used was occasionally foiled by bad weather. Why was this amusing? Well, Carolyn Hooper, the HP project manager for the race management solution, says the transponders were originally designed for motor racing and can operate at speeds up to 260km/h — but she was assured by all the skiers that none of them would be heading downhill quite that quickly!

So what does any of this have to do with the merger of HP and Compaq in New Zealand? Well, mergers always involve not just bringing together two companies at the legal and operational level, but also the merger of two different company cultures — usually one of the biggest barriers to merger success.

In conversation with Russell Hewitt, managing director of “the new HP” in New Zealand, he commented that the event had an unexpected bonus this year in helping bring staff from HP and Compaq together more quickly. As a charity event, the 50K of Coronet was seen as a neutral project, so staff from both organisations pitched in to help without any real consideration as to whether they were “HP” or “Compaq” — they were all simply part of the event team. (HP staff alone raised $81,000 for Cure Kids!)

Now I’m not claiming that the 50K of Coronet is some magic wand that will instantly bring the two companies seamlessly together, but it does highlight how cultural issues can either speed up or slow down acceptance of something new on a broader scale. Worth bearing in mind the next time you are pitching a proposed project to the management team or trying to sell a new system to the staff — keep the culture in mind, talk in a language they understand and sell them on what the benefits will be for them — not the IT department.

When he’s not telling barefaced lies about his appallingly poor skiing abilities, Casement is the business manager of CIO. He can be contacted at doug_casement@idg.co.nz

Disclosure: Casement flew to Queenstown courtesy of Hewlett-Packard.

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