Searching for keys to successful post-merger integration : A longitudinal case-study following a public sector merger

Abstract: Unsuccessful mergers are unfortunately the rule rather than the exception. Therefore it is necessary to gain an enhanced understanding of mergers and post-merger integrations (PMI) as well as learning more about how mergers and PMIs of information systems (IS) and people can be facilitated. Studies on PMI of IS are scarce and public sector mergers are even less studied. There is nothing however to indicate that public sector mergers are any more successful than those in the private sector. This thesis covers five studies carried out between 2008 and 2011 in two organizations in higher education that merged in January 2010. The most recent study was carried out two years after the new university was established. The longitudinal case-study focused on the administrators and their opinions of the IS, the work situation and the merger in general. These issues were investigated before, during and after the merger. Both surveys and interviews were used to collect data, to which were added documents that both describe and guide the merger process; in this way we aimed at a triangulation of findings. Administrators were chosen as the focus of the study since public organizations are highly dependent on this staff category, forming the backbone of the organization and whose performance is a key success factor for the organization. Reliable and effective IS are also critical for maintaining a functional and effective organization, and this makes administrators highly dependent on their organizations’ IS for the ability to carry out their duties as intended. The case-study has confirmed the administrators’ dependency on IS that work well. A merger is likely to lead to changes in the IS and the routines associated with the administrators’ work. Hence it was especially interesting to study how the administrators viewed the merger and its consequences for IS and the work situation. The overall research objective is to find key issues for successful mergers and PMIs. The first explorative study in 2008 showed that the administrators were confident of their skills and knowledge of IS and had no fear of having to learn new IS due to the merger. Most administrators had an academic background and were not anxious about whether IS training would be given or not. Before the merger the administrators were positive and enthusiastic towards the merger and also to the changes that they expected. The studies carried out before the merger showed that these administrators were very satisfied with the information provided about the merger. This information was disseminated through various channels and even negative information and postponed decisions were quickly distributed. The study conflicts with the theories that have found that resistance to change is inevitable in a merger. Shortly after the merger the (third) study showed disappointment with the fact that fewer changes than expected had been implemented even if the changes that actually were carried out sometimes led to a more problematic work situation. This was seen to be more prominent for routine changes than IS changes. Still the administrators showed a clear willingness to change and to share their knowledge with new colleagues. This knowledge sharing (also tacit) worked well in the merger and the PMI. The majority reported that the most common way to learn to use new ISs and to apply new routines was by asking help from colleagues. They also needed to take responsibility for their own training and development. Five months after the merger (the fourth study) the administrators had become worried about the changes in communication strategy that had been implemented in the new university. This was perceived as being more anonymous. Furthermore, it was harder to get to know what was happening and to contact the new decision makers. The administrators found that decisions, and the authority to make decisions, had been moved to a higher administrative level than they were accustomed to. A directive management style is recommended in mergers in order to achieve a quick transition without distracting from the core business. A merger process may be tiresome and require considerable effort from the participants. In addition, not everyone can make their voice heard during a merger and consensus is not possible in every question. It is important to find out what is best for the new organization instead of simply claiming that the tried and tested methods of doing things should be implemented. A major problem turned out to be the lack of management continuity during the merger process. Especially problematic was the situation in the IS-department with many substitute managers during the whole merger process (even after the merger was carried out). This meant that no one was in charge of IS-issues and the PMI of IS. Moreover, the top managers were appointed very late in the process; in some cases after the merger was carried out. This led to missed opportunities for building trust and management credibility was heavily affected. The administrators felt neglected and that their competences and knowledge no longer counted. This, together with a reduced and altered information flow, led to rumours and distrust. Before the merger the administrators were convinced that their achievements contributed value to their organizations and that they worked effectively. After the merger they were less sure of their value contribution and effectiveness even if these factors were not totally discounted. The fifth study in November 2011 found that the administrators were still satisfied with their IS as they had been throughout the whole study. Furthermore, they believed that the IS department had done a good job despite challenging circumstances. Both the former organizations lacked IS strategies, which badly affected the IS strategizing during the merger and the PMI. IS strategies deal with issues like system ownership; namely who should pay and who is responsible for maintenance and system development, for organizing system training for new IS, and for effectively run IS even during changing circumstances (e.g. more users). A proactive approach is recommended for IS strategizing to work. This is particularly true during a merger and PMI for handling issues about what ISs should be adopted and implemented in the new organization, issues of integration and reengineering of IS-related processes. In the new university an ITstrategy had still not been decided 26 months after the new university was established. The study shows the importance of the decisive management of IS in a merger requiring that IS issues are addressed in the merger process and that IS decisions are made early. Moreover, the new management needs to be appointed early in order to work actively with the IS-strategizing. It is also necessary to build trust and to plan and make decisions about integration of IS and people.

  This dissertation MIGHT be available in PDF-format. Check this page to see if it is available for download.