Practical advice to integrate IT systems after a merger

A merger or acquisition can devour an IT administrator's time in many ways -- from running and supporting parallel sets of infrastructure to managing automation and security.

When two companies merge -- or one acquires another -- IT administrators perform a lot of heavy lifting to integrate disparate systems and infrastructure. Early preparation and understanding the core differences between the two companies' IT maturity levels can go a long way toward simplifying the process.

There are many factors which can be used to assess a company's IT maturity level. To start, consider:

  • How well-defined the organization's IT processes, procedures and documentation are;
  • The level of automation that exists, in terms of both IT infrastructure and user self-service; and
  • How much insight technical and business leaders have into the IT systems and infrastructure.

A smaller company tends to have more of an ad hoc approach to IT -- and IT management -- as compared to a large enterprise. There is often less rigorous control, standardization and automation. Smaller companies might not, for example, have a self-service portal for the creation and management of accounts or VM management. In some cases, these companies might even outsource their technical knowledge and management, meaning there are few IT resources inside the actual company.

All these factors -- and more -- play a role in how to best integrate IT systems after a merger.

Don't rush an IT integration strategy

During a merger or acquisition, management is often keen to cut support costs for any infrastructure resources they expect to eliminate or replace. However, the IT infrastructure and services of the acquired company have to remain functional until the merger is complete.

Determine the extent to which the acquired company will run as a separate entity versus being absorbed into the other business. That answer will drive many of the decisions around how to integrate IT systems after a merger.

Assuming the companies will become a single entity, don't continue to develop automated processes for the limited-life infrastructure, as those processes will just have to migrate to the newly combined environment eventually.

In addition to underlying infrastructure automation, IT teams need to merge both companies' front-end self-service platforms. This is not typically a day-one objective. Run the two self-service systems in parallel for a short time to manage day-to-day items but restrict the addition of new resources to the system being eliminated, unless approved by senior members of staff.

Running all IT systems -- including those related to infrastructure, networking and security -- side by side minimizes disruption and facilitates a smoother transition for IT teams to the new environment. However, the process will take time; gradually replicate required functionality into the new, combined infrastructure, meeting necessary security and administration criteria.

Ensure IT support services are available to maintain that infrastructure holistically -- especially if servers or other resources reside in remote locations. This is critical to respond effectively to a hardware failure during an IT merger. While time-consuming, compile and maintain a master list of all servers that require management.

Coordinate with MSPs

A merger can be especially complicated when the company being acquired uses a third party, such as a managed service provider (MSP), to oversee its IT environment. In these cases, the MSP should provide a reasonable level of facilitation and handover support during the acquisition process. Be sure to make the most of that time, before the merger is complete.

Ensure system access and security

After compiling that master list, test access -- including root-level access -- to the resources it includes. There is no worse IT scenario than not having required system access during a disaster or crisis.

However, it can be a major challenge to establish that access when integrating IT systems after a merger. Systems such as Active Directory or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol can centralize access and user management, but IT teams need to establish trust and set up accounts that span both companies' infrastructure. Then, they should test access controls thoroughly.

In addition, consider patches for the acquired infrastructure. Frequently, there is a need to bring that infrastructure up to the required patch level. While patching and implementing proper security can be time-consuming, it's a necessary process -- otherwise, you effectively assume the liability that comes with the acquired infrastructure.

Extend IT infrastructure management tools to support the acquired environment -- even if that infrastructure will be eliminated in the long term, security and other requirements don't suddenly stop.

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