Change management will make or break key technology rollouts

Ellucian’s CIO shares change management lessons learned from two recent collaboration platform replacements
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IT organizations are getting better at change management, but there are still many that “throw projects over the fence” and expect adoption. In some cases, senior business partners accept or even promote this approach. Your enterprise may achieve some success with informal change management, but you’ll never realize a project’s full business value unless you have buy-in and engagement from the ultimate users. That requires change management.

We engaged in business unit partnerships to define and deploy the solutions, which in turn changed the organizational culture.

During the past 12 months, we completed two major collaboration platform replacements, each of which impacted all members of our enterprise. The projects proved to be among the most successful we deployed, not because we delivered the solutions (we did), but because we engaged in business unit partnerships to define and deploy the solutions, which in turn changed the organizational culture.

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Making way for organizational change

Before launching our new video solution, we were using a less functional platform that suffered from usability problems and bandwidth sensitivity. Before launching our new channel-based chat solution, we had members of the company using many different tools and often unable to communicate quickly and efficiently.

For both deployments, we engaged early on with champions from each business unit and involved them in conversations about how we wanted to lead our global teams. Ellucian is a 50-year-old company, and the management model for much of its lifetime was tenure-based, hierarchical, and siloed: The manager defined the work and the employee did the work. As a leadership team, we were pushing to shift to a new model in which teams self-form to problem-solve, design solutions collectively, and implement them — kind of like an open source project.

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This new way of working would require a significant shift in our organizational culture. We’d need to bolster dialogue among all parts and levels of the organization. Since our organization is global and many employees are remote, we needed seamless tools for collaboration. We needed teams to empower themselves with technology, engage with the right people, and deliver solutions to business problems. To enable those cultural shifts, we needed to have the right platforms, process changes, and training in place.

We are observing a significant shift away from email to chat.

The combination of the new video tool and the new channel-based chat tool gave us a transformational set of collaboration solutions. By default, our group meetings are video-based, as are a large percentage of our one-on-one meetings. Phone calls are reserved for select external conversations: Few people make internal phone calls and few people have phones at their workstations. We are observing a significant shift away from email to chat. And we are observing a great deal of collaboration in our rapidly growing set of internal “public” channels.

Cross-functional project champions: Key to success

As the technology becomes easier to implement — we had few concerns that we couldn’t deploy the solutions to or that wouldn’t work or scale — change management becomes relatively more important in a project. Lack of focus on change management can lead to real problems. If an IT team rolls out a tool that the organization rejects, users will continue to use legacy tools or find their own solutions. IT teams now need to be thoughtful both in choosing technology and in doing the organizational work to deploy that technology successfully. 

The rollouts of our two collaboration platforms were in some ways traditional: There was budgeting, planning, piloting, vendor selection, phasing, and execution. In addition, we added a less traditional component: champions. That is, we built a team of cross-functional champions for each of the projects.

A key point was the accountability of those champions to own change management for their unit.

These champions represented the various business units and provided guidance on decision-making. We held the champions accountable for representing their organization’s positions and for working in their organizations to communicate and ensure alignment with the project objectives. A key point was the accountability of those champions to own change management for their unit. We supported this ownership with communication and resources at the corporate level.

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Leading change management is often about finding the right people with the right attitude and experience who can back up your vision and plan when someone says it’s too expensive or will take too much time. A quick implementation without the right change management and the right processes won’t achieve the maximum value of the investment.

Whenever an organization makes changes of the scope we experienced with our collaboration projects, there’s bound to be some pushback. Surprisingly, we’ve experienced only favorable reactions, which I attribute to the change management techniques we used to sell the projects to the organization in advance.

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Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.


Helping institutions of higher learning manage change is one of the things that Ellucian is best at. This is one of the strengths of a great CIO.