Feeds

Life after merger: data better together or apart?

Risk assessment

Mobile application security vulnerability report

As companies expand they restructure, start new initiatives, acquire competitors, and in times of hardship they ditch unprofitable business lines and cut staff.

But change is an inevitable part of business, with an equally inevitable impact on IT systems – especially when two departments or organisations join forces.

Mergers most often aim to achieve efficiencies, for example to reach a broader customer base without doubling the size of the organisation. Just as there may be duplication of roles between the companies (and painful redundancy programmes), it may be equally inefficient to run two human resources systems or customer databases or accounting packages.

Enigma variations

How easy is it to merge two sets of data? Plenty of obstacles can get in the way, including subtle differences in how terms are defined.

In sales for example, one organisation’s “lead” can be another’s “opportunity”, and one customer database may be more realistic than the other. Merging the two would mean diluting one and over-egging the other.

Data quality can also be a challenge. Data can be incorrectly entered, with words misspelt and fields poorly linked. Many organisations rely on their own shorthand to reflect domain knowledge – not entering full address information for local customers, for example, or using secret codes to indicate a bad payer or a handle-with-care client.

And the primary tenet of good software design – to separate the data logic from the business logic – is frequently ignored.

From simple code that validates address fields to fully fledged escalation workflows or critical event flagging, all can happen within the data layer, but such extensions can add a great deal of work to the merge.

Testing, testing

In merging two systems, you will need to assess the approach you wish to take. You may be looking at two databases that share the same data definitions and front-ends and have a minimum of customisation.

If both organisations have been using the same commercial package or online service and followed the manual to the letter, you are in the enviable position of simply having to import one set of data into the other.

Even in this case, however, you should take care to avoid risks. It is a good idea to set up a test version of the database, via cloning or export, rather than just going for it with a live system. (Who’d be so stupid? Well, seen it, been there.)

The chances are you will find customisations that have more impact than you would expect, for example an obscure yet important extra field created in one system but not in the other.

Running a trial is essential. If it reveals complications, such as data quality issues or domain-specific extensions, then you will need to cost the approach you decide to take. The cost of merging two systems may well exceed the overheads incurred by running them in parallel.

Where a big-bang transition seems prohibitive, it may be better to keep both systems running

There are no hard and fast rules about how, or indeed whether, to merge two systems. You may be able to devise an interface, or use one system for current customers, suppliers and products, say, and keep the other as an archive, or build a new front end which draws information from both.

Where a big-bang transition seems prohibitive, it may be better to keep both systems running, migrating subsets of the data over time. Not ideal, but it all comes down to numbers.

People matter

On the upside, a merger of two systems may provide an opportunity to realign business processes and working practices. Organisations and the people in them might like to believe they are unique, but there is usually room for alignment with what is considered best practice. A new IT system can act as a lever that gets people working more efficiently.

Whatever the chosen approach, most people will see it as working with a new application. From small changes in terminology and tweaks to processes to learning about whole new capabilities or practices that are no longer acceptable, users will require training.

If a company is only as good as the data it manages, it is the people involved who have the biggest influence on that data. ®

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.