Corporate Culture

All companies have their own corporate culture, which can be as diverse as two multinational companies or as similar as two mutual insurance companies. No matter how similar or different the alliant entities appear to be, it is critical to assess the cultures of both. Easy factors to understand and compare include general work hours and time zones, experiences with cross-site teams, and teleconference etiquette for newer team members. More difficult, critical items include:

■ How the internal IT shops operate

■ How the other company's business and IT units get along

■ How work is prioritized

■ How priority conflicts get resolved

The relationship between the human resources (HR) and IT areas could seriously affect an alliance project. Because IT staff is critical to many alliances, it is important for the organizations to retain the current knowledgeable staff, who understand the systems and can create transition processing. If IT staff members do not find it valuable to remain, they might leave at the first opportunity. Therefore, organizations should develop "stay" bonus packages, which will likely be different for IT than those of other staff members. It is important to have an HR area that understands the IT environment and can help in developing these packages.

The two IT cultures will likely have different organizational structures and processes. For example, large companies operate very differently than smaller companies in decision-making abilities and the formality of communications. Other factors that IT should consider include: whether there are formal project management or systems development methodologies, the standard desktop configuration and software available to share information, and how voice and e-mail are used internally and over the Internet.

Vendor relationships within each of the IT organizations will also affect alliance efforts. Larger companies usually have more influence in vendor negotiations, whereas smaller companies must often accept the pricing as presented.

In addition to potential third-party factors, different releases of the same software can cause incompatibilities that must be resolved. It is critical to analyze software package-by-package to make sure the packages are compatible where necessary, and to develop a vendor negotiation strategy.

Companies also have different products and vendors fulfilling the same functionality. Again, it is critical to walk through each situation, identifying the necessary course of action. Sometimes, different packages can communicate with other similar packages and no additional action is needed.

Early on in an alliance process, often before the contract is signed, the IT front-line staff members must start working together to define the detailed requirements. Each company has its own cultural way of working through issues. For example, some cultures tightly control communications and decision delegation, while others let staff members make decisions and be accountable for them. It is important to identify processes and lead people in order to quickly address any conflict. If the respective IT and business areas do not get along, the alliance will be more challenging.

A company's culture is developed over time, and is often held sacred — for both old companies and new start-ups. Assessing and understanding an alliant company's cultures up front can help IT understand how it operates and quickly work through issues.

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