Winning the post-merger war

Thursday Apr 1st 1999 by Dana Blankenhorn
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When tough decisions have to be made fast, the company with the most "organized" data holds a strategic advantage.


When two companies merge, the systems battle begins. Which "side" will win control of newly combined departments is anyone's guess. But any technology you have that's better than what the other side has is a strategic weapon in that war.

This issue is being faced by employees of the former Chrysler Corp., based in Detroit, and the Montvale, N.J.-based U.S. operations of the former Mercedes-Benz USA. At stake is which company's systems--and personnel--will stay and which will go in the merged DaimlerChrysler Corp., whose U.S. base is in Auburn Hills, Mich. Chrysler should have an advantage because it has a larger employee base in the U.S., but Lisa Rosenfeld, a compensation specialist from the Mercedes-Benz side of the new company, has a secret weapon too. She knows where the bodies are buried.

Which company's systems--and personnel--will stay and which will go in the newly merged DaimlerChrysler Corp?

Rosenfeld helps manage more than 1,300 employees at Mercedes, 500 of them in the corporate office. Until recently, she didn't have an up-to-date organization chart. Now she's got one that is constantly updated, thanks to an intranet.

Organization charts show where every employee sits in the hierarchy and how business must be conducted. They can also show how many people belong in a department. Management uses these charts in planning and budgeting, while employees at all levels can use them in career planning. "There has always been a big push for organization charts," Rosenfeld says.

In most companies, it's impossible to find an up-to-date organization chart. Mercedes used to print charts only once a quarter, says Rosenfeld. Not only was that a time-consuming and expensive process, but the charts were usually obsolete before they hit anyone's desk.

The obvious solution to these problems is to put the data online. To Rosenfeld, that meant using the corporate intranet and technologies that are unlikely to become obsolete. She first tried to put her org chart onto the Mercedes-Benz intranet in 1997 by purchasing a data-flow plug-in that worked specifically with the Lotus Domino database, pulling information from the human resources database and turning it manually into a chart. But even with the plug-in, there were problems: (1) the information in the organization chart still had to be updated manually, (2) the data was useless outside the chart, and (3) the plug-in didn't always work as she wanted it to. The whole process was time consuming, and the results weren't what she wanted.

When Rosenfeld went to tradeshows or conventions throughout 1997 she was constantly on the lookout for a solution. It was on one such trip that she came upon the booth of TimeVision Inc., of Irving Texas. The company was offering a new product called OrgPublisher for Intranets, which at the time was still undergoing beta tests. The product promised not only to simplify the process of creating organization charts, but also to build a database controlling the entire human resources process.

A strategic weapon

OrgPublisher can work with any data source that's based on a relational database. An "automation API" has to be used once to extract the data from a larger database, but once that data is published to a file or Web server, the process of updating it is automatic. On the client end, a Microsoft ActiveX or Netscape plug-in is used to format and display the data in the form of an organization chart. Despite its graphic display, the data behind the chart remains searchable.

The product comes with a 30-day free trial, which eventually stretched to 60 days at Mercedes, Rosenfeld recalls. The software costs $9,000 for up to 1,000 employees or $10,000 for up to 1,500--Mercedes has 1,300 U.S. employees. Once Rosenfeld got the nod from IT and the Web staff for the purchase, "We created an extract file from our database of the organizational structure, put that on a schedule, and launched it," last October, she says.

At Mercedes, the data is refreshed once a week from the company's ERP system--actually a Lotus Domino database--Rosenfeld says, to a Web server located in and maintained by the human resources department. Rosenfeld also had digital photos taken of all employees, which are linked to their personnel data within the human resources Web server, before putting that server online to the whole company.


Once the database was published, other departments could link to it simply by pointing to its URL on the Mercedes-Benz intranet, a simple Windows NT machine, Rosenfeld says. Now, before factory or warehouse managers come to Montvale for a conference, Rosenfeld can have badges--complete with pictures--printed up for them. The people planning those meetings can greet their fellow employees warmly because they've already seen them online. Line managers benefit because they can see at a glance who is in their department, what their job responsibilities are, and who they report to. As an added bonus, "If a position is open you can click a box and see the function of the job, the salary range, [and] the knowledge skills, and we can recruit internally from there," Rosenfeld says.

OrgPublisher's capabilities provide real bottom-line savings. Mercedes' original, printed quarterly reports cost $46,000 four times a year to create, and that expense has been eliminated.
The OrgPublisher database can also be used at budget time. "The system allows department managers to view what positions are open, and do some of their planning through the tool, rather than having reports run off." Where Rosenfeld used to spend hours filling requests for reports on budgeted head counts, "Now they can get that information online," she says.

OrgPublisher's capabilities provide real bottom-line savings. Mercedes' original, printed quarterly reports cost $46,000 each to create, and that expense has been eliminated. "Soft" benefits are apparent as well. "People love it--they can search by names and find a reporting relationship simply," says Rosenfeld.

Still, there was some early cost. The product had to be installed, the photos had to be taken, and the process of moving and maintaining the new database had to be done several times to make certain everything worked. OrgPublisher was to become the backbone of corporate life. As Rosenfeld explains, "This became our telephone directory, our e-mail listing, our fax number listing, and a picture book for all employees." But the cost was recaptured within a few months.

Time will tell

How will this tool be leveraged as decisions about personnel are heightened? Well, the first budgets under the new organization must be completed by August of this year. "The budget for head count needs to be approved by DaimlerChrysler," Rosenfeld says, and OrgPublisher will allow managers to "get a visual perspective of their head count." By doing what-if analyses, moving positions around before the changes take effect, and seeing the impact that changes have on their budgets, managers can come to employee position decisions more quickly. Having this kind of data at their fingertips should be a powerful tool for Mercedes' managers as they draw their swords and prepare to protect jobs in Montvale and at other Mercedes-Benz locations.

Using OrgPublisher at Chrysler could create additional savings, not to mention some goodwill between the newly unified HR departments. (Chrysler doesn't have a tool like this.) But it's no small task to increase the reach of Rosenfeld's database and extend it to the entire Chrysler employment base in the United States. It will take integration between TimeVision and the systems of various ERP vendors, something Rosenfeld says DaimlerChrysler is now working on.

The folks who create OrgPublisher aren't standing still either, and those efforts should assist Daimler-Chrysler immensely, if it chooses to go with Rosenfeld's solution companywide. ODBC connections between OrgPublisher and various database systems will, within a few months, offer real-time access to the organization chart, she says (and TimeVision confirms it).

It goes without saying that integrating two companies after a merger is always a struggle. Having data in compatible formats, under TCP/IP and HTML standards, is undoubtedly a plus for organizations entering the War Zone. The company that enters such a negotiation with its personnel databases at its fingertips has the clear advantage. Offering that data in a visual, easy-to-understand format, like an organization chart, is yet another plus when hard decisions have to be made quickly.

Time will tell whether all this is enough to save jobs in Montvale. //

Dana Blankenhorn has covered computing since 1983 and now edits a-clue.com (http://www.a-clue.com), a free e-mail newsletter on electronic commerce, from his home-office in Atlanta. He can be reached via e-mail at dana.blankenhorn@att.net.



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