In-Depth

The changing world of change management

Once limited to software development, more and more firms are discovering that change management tools and processes are well suited for use across the enterprise. Here is what you need to know to be part of the new picture in change management.

Software Configuration Management (SCM), the practice of using a set of well-defined procedures and tools to manage the changes that occur during the software development life cycle, has long been a part of the software engineering lexicon. For companies employing SCM, the benefits are substantial: improved control, reduced release and distribution costs, lower support costs (because of the elimination of errors in final configurations) and faster time to market. It was therefore only a matter of time before many of these companies realized that changes occur throughout all aspects of an organization, and that there should be a way to apply the principles and practices of SCM to other parts of the enterprise. Simply put, these organizations are looking for ways to identify, track and control changes to business-critical assets to gain a higher return on these assets.

This expansion in the definition of change management is occurring slowly but steadily. Three things separate the companies that manage this change successfully from those that do not. First, they have the foresight to recognize the need for change management at the enterprise level. Second, they understand that change management is as much about process as anything else, and that without clearly defined and repeatable practices these initiatives are likely to fail. Third, they recognize the need for tools that can support these processes to make this enterprise change management efficient and effective.

For years, change management has been generally defined as a technique for managing software development. However, organizations need to understand that this is only an important subset -- true enterprise-wide change management encompasses much more than just software development. Change management can be applied to manage the customization and deployment of commercially available applications as well as track and control “soft” or “digital” assets, such as Web content and documents. Once organizations recognize that software, a Web page, a financial procedures manual and a business procedure document are all assets that are developed, deployed and changed periodically, they quickly come to the realization that they must be tracked and managed if they are to retain their intrinsic value.

Enterprise Change Management (ECM) is the practice of identifying, tracking, managing, verifying and releasing (or publishing) corporate digital assets. It makes the assumption that these types of IT assets will change over time in the course of supporting the business and, unless they are managed, can yield low returns. It is important to understand that items such as Web content, product documentation, internal policy documents and business process documents are all assets that play an important role in the workings of a business. Using assets that are out of date, incorrect or inadequate can lead to unnecessary costs, inefficiencies in business process execution and poor customer service. When these assets are viewed as business assets that work to generate profit for the corporation, the need to ensure that they are closely managed becomes self-evident.

This is vital in light of the proliferation of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every department and line of business (LOB) within an organization, including HR, operations, product research and development, and sales and marketing, deals with IT assets. Even business processes and procedures are themselves subject to change. In short, if there are changes to an organization’s tangible or intangible assets, these changes can and should be managed.

In some instances, this ECM endeavor will focus primarily on implementing change management in a given department or aspect of a business. More often, it will reflect a comprehensive approach that binds the organization together and gives management insight into cross-functional interdependencies as they impact the entire business. In either instance, process and tools are essential in making this change management effective and efficient.

Change management and process

Change management is not just about having the vision to recognize that change impacts assets throughout an organization, it is about recognizing that it is necessary to manage this change in a consistent manner. What is required is a change management process. A change management process is often viewed as an ominous practice, and one that most people balk at using. However, if processes are defined as a set of simple rules that can be followed consistently and easily, they can become an important step toward greater efficiency and lessened risk. Change processes define what steps need to be followed in what order, and who has ownership of each step. The net result is a clear set of business rules that everyone can follow.

Organizations can avoid having to constantly re-invent the wheel by adopting one of the industry-standard best practices that are emerging for managing the process of change across an organization. The Institute of Configuration Management in Scottsdale, Ariz., for example, has developed a “how-to” process called CMII, also known as Configuration Management for Business Process infrastructure. Underlying CMII is the belief that the same capabilities and principles used for software change management can be applied to other “non-software” assets.

CMII is widely becoming the norm. For instance, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) employs CMII as a company-wide best practice to leverage the benefits of process and efficiency. Underpinning these standards is the concept of closed-looped change control in which organizations process and implement only approved changes, thereby eliminating the enormous costs and risks associated with unauthorized or unscheduled changes.

The planning and implementation of this sort of enterprise change management is similar to any other large-scale enterprise initiative. Companies need to conduct audits of existing practices to identify their starting point, and follow this with a gap analysis and policy review to identify, implement and assess the relevant modifications. In a sense, each person, procedure and tool needs to be assessed regarding its value to the overall business. If any one of these factors does not map clearly to business value, then it needs to be reassigned, redefined or retrained as appropriate, or risk elimination.

Leveraging existing investments

From a broad perspective, particularly in these difficult economic times, it is absolutely crucial that organizations take the necessary steps to better leverage and capitalize on their existing IT investments to realize a high level of return on investment (ROI). Assuming that the business vision and the necessary practices are in place to implement enterprise change management, the next step is to identify the appropriate tools and frameworks. These products not only make it possible to identify, track and control this change across multiple lines of business, they also ensure that the organization is not attempting to rely on time-consuming and error-prone manual procedures.

The first issue is to identify whether or not a company’s existing tools are appropriate for enterprise-wide change management. PVCS Dimensions from Merant Inc., Hillsboro, Ore., for example, is particularly appropriate for ECM because of its support for an asset change approval process, and the fact that users from different disciplines and skill levels can use it for change management. All assets, regardless of format, can be stored in a central repository -- with easy access for anyone authorized to use them -- with information on their status and where they are being used readily available. This last aspect is significant in that it gives the corporation information on the value of each asset and how it may be contributing to the organization’s profitability.

Serena Software Inc., San Mateo, Calif., also markets tools for ECM, although Serena’s tools are intended for use more as enterprise-wide software platforms than enterprise-wide assets. Other vendors are also moving toward ECM offerings, but most change management products currently focus on software development. Adapting these tools to manage enterprise-wide assets will take considerable customization.

Another option is to use multiple tools that cross different functional boundaries, such as using a software configuration management tool in concert with a Web content management solution. This can pose significant integration and incompatibility problems, however. These solutions must be designed to work together and stay in sync as they go through their own change cycles.

The other aspect of a tool’s flexibility is its support of change management processes and practices. A tool that forces an organization to conform to its own pre-selected processes is a misfit because it forces the company to conform to the tool, instead of the tool supporting the business. More importantly, the ideal tool needs to be able to support both industry best practices, enabling the organization to leverage standards, as well as custom procedures that fit each company’s resources and the particular way in which it operates.

When evaluating ECM solutions, companies also need to be aware of how easily these tools and frameworks can be configured, deployed and administered. While it is likely that some amount of vendor or third-party consulting will be necessary for the initial training and implementation, a tool with too much complexity, or one that is being asked to do things it is not designed to do, is likely to result in expensive and prolonged implementation cycles. Moreover, there is the risk that a complex tool will end up being “shelfware” in short order. A good strategy is to select a tool that supports a phased rollout, enabling both immediate ROI and longer range enhancement. The solution can thus be implemented in a particular department or applied to a particular asset-type, and other assets and departments can be incorporated over time.

Ideally, the chosen solution should be powerful enough to cover a wide range of requirements, flexible enough to leverage both industry practices and custom procedures, and scalable enough to grow with the organization.

Looking ahead

As more companies outsource and collaborate with partners and suppliers, they must also look beyond their own personnel, development and IT infrastructure to coordinate and effectively manage changes both internally and externally. The reality of business today is that more and more activities cross multiple geographic and organizational boundaries, making it essential that organizations look to manage the whole endeavor rather than a particular isolated project.

Complicating matters, these partners and collaborators may be using different systems, which require that the chosen CM process accommodate disparate environments. Some organizations are even taking the approach of dictating that partners and suppliers adopt a single tool as part of an overall project.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, for example, has taken this approach as part of its development of the Joint Strike Fighter, one of the largest single military development projects in U.S. history. By implementing a single overriding framework (in this instance, Merant’s Dimensions) and process across all of these organizations, Lockheed can have better visibility and control over the entire project, while avoiding the delays, problems and expense of integrating disparate systems. Ultimately this should help ensure that -- despite the huge number of outside contractors involved -- they can still deliver the project on time and within budget.

It is not difficult for companies in today’s economic climate to implement enterprise change management if they understand the benefits of automating processes to reduce costs, gain efficiency and improve competitive advantage. If an organization already has a documented working CM process in place, then it clearly comprehends that change management brings competitive value, such as completing tasks more quickly and efficiently.

To date, that benefit has been largely restricted to the software development paradigm. But it can and should also be applied to IT as a whole. This sort of comprehensive change management offers a disciplined, pragmatic approach to supervising changes across an enterprise, and delivers cost benefits and efficiency improvements throughout the organization.

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