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The failure of Data Solutions Part 1 - Resistance to Change

Since the foundation of our consultancy in spring 2017, we have been dealing with the challenge of revealing the added value of their data to companies. We have handled the implementation of small, but fine projects for SMEs up to complete integrations of data management solutions for large corporations. In all these projects, there were various hurdles that seemed impossible at first glance, but which could be overcome with sufficient time investment. I would like to briefly list and explain these and then present possible solutions for them with which we were able to achieve good results.

Basically, the problems can be closed into three large groups:

  • Failure due to resistance to change
  • Failure due to data heterogeneity
  • Failure due to capacity constraints

These three groups have all manifested themselves in some form in almost every project. Therefore, in this series of articles, we would now like to look at them in more detail and offer suggestions for solutions.

Failure due to resistance to change

This point is probably the most difficult of all. The company has decided to use the available data and the necessary means have been provided, only there are customers, partners or employees who are reluctant to accept these solutions.

Picture 1: Overview of potential Solutions for change resistance

There is a reason why there are consultants in the field of change management, because we humans rarely like to break away from tried and tested things. Whether it’s coffee in the morning, a glass of wine in the evening, a seat in our favourite restaurant or even our business processes. Resistance to change affects all stakeholders, whether customers, suppliers or ourselves.

The methodology and process we use to solve these challenges is chosen by the stakeholder, so we would now like to briefly discuss each of these.

Resistance of the partners

Our partners enable us to provide the best products or services to our customers. A good relationship with them is therefore essential. In many situations, however, companies do not have the leverage to get their partners to change. In some cases, although we rarely want to admit it, we are even at their mercy to a certain extent.

As with so many things, the key is communication. It sounds trivial, but in many cases a frank conversation with the partners is enough to bring about change or at least to identify the reason for the resistance. Because of our independence as counsellors, we were able to talk openly and without bias with the partners about these points. In the course of this, we identified the following causes:

  • Disproportionate requirements to customer relevance
  • Continuously changing requirements
  • Different requirements depending on the contact person
  • Unfinanced additional work
  • Increasing complexity

We can now break these down to just two motivators: Complexity and Effort. These two usually go hand in hand, which in reality allows us to address the problem from both directions.

As a solution, we can fall back on an old adage. Any problem can be solved by throwing a bunch of money at it, or we can take the sustainable route and try to redefine our collaboration or workflows with partners. However, we have to be aware that these undertakings also entail a certain complexity. Finding a balance between one’s own interests and those of the partner is often not easy, especially since compromises have to be made.

The way to do this as efficiently as possible lies in 

  • Creating an overview
    • Creation of a Business Requirement Document,
      documenting how our partners embed themselves in our process, and a
    • Securing predefined limits of concession (financial, workflow)

As has always been the case in IT, we can make it easier for both us and our partners to create an overview of the requirements with a clear documentation of the requirements. It doesn’t have to be a 200-slide presentation in corporate style, a simple A4 sheet with our expectations is also sufficient.

The way our partners embed themselves in our process helps us firstly to grasp the relevance and urgency of these and often uncovers inefficiencies in the integration. Again, it is not always useful to aim for a scientific level. It is often enough to lock yourself in a room with the team for 2 hours and equip everyone with enough Post-Its. Tom Wujec has created a very good approach to problem solving with his Design Thinking Approach[1].

Setting limits for ourselves is a virtue worth striving for, but in negotiations it is a must. In the goal to optimise, we must not forget that by making concessions we usually burden ourselves and our employees more. Therefore, clear boundaries must be set, roles must always be clearly defined and insisted upon.

The fourth hidden point, concerns our staff, who ultimately have to adhere to the new workflows, which brings us to the next point:


Resistance of the employees

Employees are the company. This statement hits shareholders in particular like a stab in the heart, but it is employees who make the company work in the first place. This makes it all the more important to keep employees motivated[2]. This is especially substantial in change processes.

Technology and data innovation inevitably lead to changes in processes, in roles, in the work itself and in the behaviour expected of employees. This contributes to uncertainty and often triggers a mood of protest. We reviewed numerous approaches to structuring this problem in the course of writing this article, but concluded that at the centre, at least in the case of software and data solution integrations, is one question.

“Who benefits from this implementation?”

Indeed, if we answer this question, we can derive the necessary actions accordingly. To suggest the significance of this question, we describe below two possible answers as to how the behaviour of the respective stakeholders changes as a result.

Integration only benefits management or selective department

In order to fulfil the necessary control function of the management, control measures have to be introduced, which may appear cumbersome or even annoying for employees (e.g. time recording, CRM maintenance).

The situation is similar if only a single department benefits from it, but all others have to cooperate. Especially with data solutions that require certain new structures, changes in the workflow primarily affect the operative units, while administrative and advisory units are much less involved.

Employees have to endure these necessary evils, and this will usually not be easy. In order to get through this as efficiently as possible, we have compiled some suggestions for solving these problems, which our clients have applied with success:

  • Clear communication of why these adjustments are necessary for the company
  • Attempt to compensate for the additional workload of the operational units with relief in other areas
  • Simultaneous integration of further solutions that relieve employees
  • Involving staff in the decision-making and implementation process
  • Timely preparation of staff on changes, the process, their roles in the changes

These are just a few possible solutions. Our consultant colleagues in the change management field will also be able to tell you about other possibilities.

Integration only benefits customers

This issue in particular often gives rise to a mood of protest, even if the additional expenditure is paid for by the customers. The management may be happy about the additional order, but employees have to do the extra work. If no additional payment is made by the client, this can even lead to displeasure in general.

We often see this problem in the B2B sector, when companies are at the mercy of one or a few large customers. The customer knows its relevance and can thus demand changes without compromise, while the sword of Damocles begins to wobble over the company in case of contradiction.

Admittedly, there are solutions that will keep this problem under control in the long term. In the short term, we have to bite the bullet. We recommend the following approaches:

  • Recording of customer expectations, agreement and acceptance of an integration roadmap (see Business Requirements Documentation at Partner)
  • Clear expectation management on capacity bottlenecks and timeframes with clients
  • Disclosure of the necessary procedural changes within the framework of the project
  • Disclosure of the additional capacities required within the framework of project implementation and during ongoing operation, even if no additional payments are called up for this purpose
  • Strengthen team structure by having management and staff work together on the problem. (“Together we can do it”)

In addition, the measures described in the previous point still apply as they come to light during implementation.

As we can see from these exemplary answers, there is no go-to recipe for this challenge. We therefore recommend the following measures to successfully deal with this multifaceted problem:

  • Create a clear picture of which stakeholders will benefit and which will be affected.
  • Dedicated human resource for project management that also deals with the change-related challenges and drives the project forward
  • Bringing in an external resource dedicated to change management and preparing the company for it.

Resistance of customers

“If only it weren’t for the customers…” With this ironic sentence, they can put a smile on the face of service sector employees. Describing the relevance of customers and customer relationships seems trivial, at least since Amazon. How do we deal with it when a customer refuses to integrate a new solution a new process that is, however, substantial for us? A good friend of mine once cynically told me in the context of his professional challenges: “If there is no other way, there is always the exit.” However, as this is not a sustainable path in the context of client relationships, we would like to present some potential solutions to this, with which we have been able to achieve good success:

  • Involving the client(s) in the selection and implementation process of new solutions
  • Pitching the solution with a clear focus on the benefits of a financial or process nature for the client
  • Ensure sufficient time for changeover for customers
  • Ensure sufficient time for changeover for customers
  • Coupling of an additional solution, which offers the customer clear advantages

Adjustments that change the process of our customers and do not bring them any added value should be fundamentally reconsidered. There are few reasons to push through such projects, as long as the goal is not to lose customers.

In conclusion, in the words of Anton Bruckner: “Those who want to build high towers must linger long on the foundations.”

That was the first part of our series of articles. We hope we have been able to give you food for thought on this extremely exciting topic. We are happy to receive comments, questions and what experiences you have had.

The next article will be about data types, naming conventions, silos and how you can overcome these challenges.

[1] An inspiring approach to solving complex problems is described by Tom Wujec on his website.

[2] We would like to refrain from delving into motivation theory at this point. We can recommend the publications by Barbuto and Scholl for further reading.

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