Nothing is more exciting than a merger, perhaps because the closest companion of this emotion is dread. The recently announced BB&T/SunTrust “merger of equals” is sure to “excite” both employees of these two companies, and their many corporate and residential customers. Our own IT industry is rife with mergers. I routinely receive earnest, concerned questions from my clients’ CIOs about service levels every time one of their key network (or data center, software, mobile, etc.) suppliers takes the plunge. Again. Mergers are de facto a portal to change, which may be affected with precision from much forethought and planning or become a crucible that virtually incinerates customer satisfaction.

In my experience, mergers should be treated as a springboard to greatness within the IT discipline, not as a thing of dread. With all the emerging technology changes and tools now available to a global CIO, a merger should be embraced as the catalyst to launch visions previously thought too risky or expensive to grasp, be it a shift to network transformation utilizing SD-WAN, to establishment of a Technology Business Management program, to a universal security platform, to an aggressive ‘good old fashioned’ optimization of services, software, vendors, data centers — you name the cost, it can be made more cost effective and efficient with a concerted effort and a clear vision.

Too often I am called in post-merger to identify such opportunities. Granted, pre-merger communication must follow its own defined rules of engagement and communication, but it never ceases to amaze me of how much could be accomplished in a pre-merger “clean room” environment, or anticipated and planned independently by the merging parties, and yet has not. At a minimum, visionary IT executive (led the global CIO) should treat a merger as a too rare opportunity to propel IT from cost center to driver of revenue. Just accepting this recognition is an important first step.

The timeless adage “you cannot manage what you cannot measure” applies. Too many merging companies come up woefully short in understanding: 1) what they have; 2) where they need to go; and 3) how to get there. Do not underestimate the first point, because it is the foundation from which all good decisions are made. I have briefed CIOs on assessments of their company’s inventory of services and had them reply, “I had no idea we were spending that much on ‘X’ and with that many disparate providers.” Years ago, I ran a clean room project for a merger of two very large global computer manufacturers. The acquiring company had ~70% visibility into its $160M/year global network at a line-item level, whereas the acquiring company had roughly the same amount of spend all tracked at a high level on a single spreadsheet. It was fascinating to see how the two cultures interacted over that gaping chasm.

Another challenge I have seen is a total internal reliance, rather than a willingness to entertain (or even embrace) new ideas. A merger usually brings two differing IT philosophies together, irrespective of Wall Street’s confidence in “synergies”, so previously “outside” opinions suddenly have a seat at the table. A good vendor account team whose mantra is customer stewardship can be a wealth of knowledge, albeit flavored (admittedly!) by their own product set. And this is not limited to providers of “tactile” products like network, data centers or mobility. Current system partners be they TEM, TBM, CRM or other catchy acronyms can also advise. To ensure that you are not drowned with “big data” and that any internal or external bias is removed, an agnostic third party can help you sort through it all and offer a candid, frank opinion on a strategy roadmap.

So, a merger should indeed be an exciting opportunity for IT professionals, as the half-life of such an event wanes far too quickly. IT professionals should therefore be galvanized into action early and keep an open mind to at least evolutionary, if not revolutionary, change. It would be optimal if all you had to do is worry about what to call the new company (i.e. for BB&T/SunTrust, how about “BB King of Banking”?).