Implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is no simple task.

Acting as central nervous systems for the entire corporation, these company-wide systems have been known to cost more than a hundred million dollars to implement, and typically impose significant changes on a company’s work practices.

In the course of such large programmes, CIOs are often called upon to build a team capable of driving the organisational change necessary to assure adoption of the ERP system.

Once the ERP implementation is complete, CIOs may find they possess an unanticipated, yet highly valuable residual asset: a highly skilled organisational change management (OCM) team that not only drives change management and adoption on other IT projects, but also helps the broader organisation with non-IT driven business transformation projects.

As current economic trends create new requirements for change, CIOs should consider this an opportunity to apply their skills and experience to other areas within the business, engendering greater recognition and playing a wider strategic role in driving competitiveness.

I speak from first hand experience. After completing our global ERP implementation in 2008, I realised how valuable and skilled our OCM team had become.

At the beginning, we required all IT project teams to enlist their services to perform tasks such as assessing change readiness, planning and delivering communications, developing education and training, and designing rewards and recognition programs.

This has greatly improved the adoption of a wide range of IT solutions, from of a new learning management system to instant messaging and unified communication services.

“If you build it, they will come...”

I can’t help but think of the famous line from the movie, “Field of Dreams”, when describing the next stage. Our executive team engaged a major board-level consultancy to benchmark our business against other key global services competitors.

The project, named ‘Operation Pinnacle’, enabled Cognizant to identify areas in which we led the competition, yet also identified five specific areas which needed a little work. Operation Pinnacle’s sponsor, our SVP of Finance, initiated a series of policy and process changes to drive the operational efficiencies we sought.

These included altering the calculation of certain business metrics, changing the way we use subcontractors, and reducing travel expenses. While there were a few technical areas which needed IT’s support, the SVP of Finance came to us for help on one of the most critical aspects of the program: managing the behavioural and cultural changes required to ensure the initiative’s success.

This request was a direct result of the change management programme of our ERP implementation, which was widely acknowledged as key to its success across our senior leadership team.

Now other functions are coming to us, asking us for assistance on their business transformation projects. We built it, and they came.

And they keep coming: last year, Cognizant launched its ‘Go Green’ environmental sustainability program, designed to minimise Cognizant’s impact on the environment and climate change, and help create a more sustainable business. Again, our OCM team has been asked to handle the communications and change management for this important program.

The success of this team is largely due to its use of a sophisticated and formalised methodology for change management.

The methodology begins with identifying and engaging the individuals within the business who are responsible for change; through to developing skills and knowledge to support change, such as education and training, as well as methods for sustaining change via measurement systems, rewards and reinforcement.

It also includes the development and implementation of effective communication strategies – not only to build awareness of the need to change and gain support from key decision makers, but also to make employees more amenable to change.

As transformation projects typically have a significant impact on business processes and the way people work, internal marketing plays a vital role in making the workforce adaptable. By winning over all internal stakeholders, the cost of major implementation or change can be dramatically reduced.

With the majority of businesses facing new requirements for change, CIOs and their teams should consider how the skills they have developed through IT implementations can be applied outside of the realm of IT.

If it is those companies that are best positioned to adapt to change; that are most likely to survive the recession and lead through recovery, then it will be those responsible for managing change that are celebrated as the architects of success.

Mark Greenlaw is CIO of global IT consultancy Cognizant