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QuickStudy: Change Management

By Leslie Jaye Goff
February 14, 2000 12:00 PM ET

The online revolution and its effect on corporate America has proved that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but don't expect that old dog to just roll over; it's going to bark and whine and chase its tail plenty before it gives you its paw.

That's where change management comes into play. It's one of those abstract topics that people pay a lot of money to attend seminars on, or get paid a lot of money to write weighty books about, but can't put their fingers on.

When it's finally boiled down, it's really about how to get users to accept a new business process -- and the technology that enables it. Change management is something project leaders, business analysts, applications developers, help desk staffers, trainers, managers and executives should understand and practice.

"It really is human beings that make companies work, not technology," says Gabriel Cooper, a consultant in Santa Rosa, Calif. "Technology is just a tool, and users have to be excited about it, believe in it, (be) trained in it and supported in it. And change management is about making sure all of those things are included from the beginning as part of a project."

Services in High Demand

Although the notion of change management has been around a long time, companies are now putting more stock in the methodologies because of the increasing Webifying of business. Research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass., estimates that the U.S. market for change management services will exceed $6 billion by 2003.

But not every information technology project requires formal change management techniques. Upgrading from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 or switching to a new voice-mail system isn't likely to create tremendous angst among users. But new applications that fundamentally alter the way a group of people operate, both as individuals and as a whole, and the way they relate to suppliers, customers and one another will create a lot of anxiety.

Face it: An SAP implementation, the introduction of an extranet to deal with suppliers or the creation of an e-commerce site are going to change the routines for everyone from top executives to administrative assistants.

Not only will they have to master a new technology, but their roles in the corporate universe may also become drastically different. At the very least, they will have to acclimate to doing their daily work in a completely new way.

In some cases, that's not just anxiety-provoking; it's downright terrifying. And change-management advocates say IT professionals who may feel invigorated by a new technology often fail to consider the ramifications of users' distress.

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