How to Integrate a Business in 90 Days

It sounds impossibly fast. But $23 billion electronic components distributor Avnet can usually bring acquired companies into the fold -- including IT systems -- within 90 days.

Avnet CIO Steve Phillips explained the process at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders conference this month. The Fortune 500 company has grown via numerous acquisitions, including three just last year.

Phillips said Avnet has an acquisitions playbook -- actually a SharePoint site -- that serves as a repository of everything Avnet has learned through more than 60 acquisitions. It includes checklists, processes and best practices for integrating all parts of the business, with a particularly thick section on IT.

The CIO urged companies to "document your tribal knowledge" and be sure to update the playbook after each deal.

Phillips said Avnet works with "deliberate speed" because a drawn-out process is a major drag on employee productivity -- he called it a "deep freeze" -- and Avnet wants to minimize the amount of time the two companies are operating differently, on separate IT systems. Besides, faster integration means a quicker payoff from the acquisition, he said.

A key element of Avnet's M&A strategy is to "ease the pain" of the people involved, Phillips said. "It's really important to be respectful and humble" when communicating with the acquired company's employees, he said. They want to know, "What's my future? Will I be with this company or not?"

Avnet determines which IT employees will be in the "go-forward organization" and which ones will be in the "transition organization" but then leave once the integration is done.

Ultimately, "we pick the best of the best" systems, applications, processes and people, Phillips said, regardless of which company they come from. Phillips himself came from Memec, which Avnet acquired in April 2005. He had been Memec's CIO.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from a blog post by Mitch Betts that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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