Management Convergence

David Brunnen, Leader of the Network Services Group at the Communications Management Association (CMA) says his organisation’s merger with the British Computer Society (BCS) was not the only recent outbreak of management convergence.

“At Westminster three All-Party Groups of MPs have also joined forces. All-party Groups bring together MP’s who have special interests. The best are very good at researching issues, developing ideas and finding a consensus that can make future legislation both possible and worthwhile.

But these All-Party Groups have been a bit like Mao’s cultural revolution – letting a thousand flowers bloom only to find that many were weeds crowding out the more interesting but delicate species. With technological convergence it really didn’t make sense for Communications, Mobile, and Internet interests to not meet in the same place. Hopefully the new All-Party Group ‘apComms’ will live up to expectations of unified communications.

In the business channel you don’t have to look far to find great examples of growth by acquisition. Part of this is driven by an enterprise market that increasingly looks to suppliers to take on the Comms and IT management roles that a decade ago would have been kept in-house. And there’s a similar pressure from OEM’s, wholesale CP’s and the bigger ISP’s to find multi-skilled channel partners.

In any merger or acquisition the primary focus is always on the big strategic issues – what resources will fit together and how the new mix will meet market needs. Management chemistry may get a lot of air-time but it’s often what happens at the edge of organisations that determines the success or failure of growth by acquisition. All of the theoretical benefits of working together can be wiped out or badly delayed by incompatible systems and networks that were designed looking inwards rather than out.

Business academics have spent nearly two decades urging that IT systems be designed for Collaborative rather than Competitive Advantage. This concept demanded that systems and networking people strayed into unfamiliar territories; to think long-term and avoid simplistic cost-based decisions. The ghosts of past quick-fixes return to haunt the manic minutes of merger time.

The outright winners in the easy-melding stakes are those that not only invested in flexibility at the edge of their business (or just beyond) but also adopted ‘value-based justifications’ from inception. Theses values, it turns out, are all the solid reasons why the investment was a really good idea even though the internal cost savings that you promised the CFO three year’s ago never materialised. Of course, you knew back then it really was the right thing to do but the Board wasn’t going to bet the house on some airy notion of future flexibility.

Some may say that with IP Convergence many of these issues disappear. Away with adapters, gateways and protocol converters – we’re all-IP now. Alas, ‘tis not so. The game has been raised to a higher level. Yesterday’s value-added network is today’s utility. Connectivity is Access, not Service. Maybe when we all get fibred we really will stop pretending that the access network should be any sort of competitive differentiator but even now, within the limits and patchy coverage of ADSL2+, it’s what your enterprise does with this capacity that really matters.

Looking again at the CMA/BCS merger, there’s no doubt that the big strategic issues are well-grounded. The strengths of the BCS are a good match for an energetic CMA with its enterprise-based membership, support form the Comms industry and a constructive ‘critical friend’ relationship with Ofcom. The merger of interests doesn’t even demand the loss of a respected brand name. But the success of the new mix will test the edges and interfaces of both organisations.

Now where did we put that can of WD40?”