LAS VEGAS — Mergers and acquisitions unleash cascading changes around the back office of a business.
Systems are reworked, people come and go and company leadership changes seemingly overnight, all in the name of a new, streamlined business.
Mergers can hit technology teams especially hard, as they are responsible for eliminating duplicate systems and creating one, centralized process.
But technology isn't the biggest obstacle in a merger.
"The people aspect was actually the hardest part," said Katherine Kountze, SVP and CIO of Eversource Energy, speaking during Thursday's keynote at the Interop IT conference in Las Vegas.
Eversource is a New England gas, water and electricity utility company serving more than four million customers in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In 2012, Northeast Utilities combined with NSTAR Electric & Gas and rebranded as Eversource Energy in 2015.
The company added water utility following its acquisition of Aquarion Water Company in 2017.
Differences came down to culture and how the two companies operated technical stacks. Eversource had two or three versions of every system. On one side, systems were customized, built from the bottom up.
On the other side, the company had old, legacy technology that was 30-40 years old in some cases, said Kountze. The process "was pretty scary."
The merger was always going to be a technology integration nightmare, but Eversource had prepared for that.
System integrations are still underway and over the years, Kountze has spent most of her spent most of her time figuring out how to motivate her team, work with peers and get employees to talk about business process change, not technology.
Though it's hindsight, Kountze would have worked closer with HR and helped employees understand why they were undergoing process change and what was in it for them.
I "completely underestimated the fact human nature does not gravitate to change," she said.
The human effect
To understand the pressures placed on a utility during an organization requires understanding the business imperative.
When a site goes down for a retail company, it's a nuisance. When a utility suffers an outage, it can impact public health and safety.
During a Nor'easter, for example, storms can take power offline for entire regions for extended periods of time.
"From an IT perspective, because we have to maintain all the systems that support the restoration effort, on a day like today they're important," Kountze said. "But on a day when you have 100,000 customers plus without power and without heat, those systems have to hum. They take on a whole new meaning."
During an outage, customer experience needs to be solid and responsive. Customers will hit outage maps at record numbers, stalk the site for information and flood call centers with concerns, quickly and heavily taxing IT systems until services are restored.
Call it the Amazon effect, but customers have a high standard for services, even in emergency situations.
The 2012 merger served as an opportunity to go greenfield with some new solutions. Choosing software as a service solutions allowed them to move quickly. Eversource also adopted platform as a service to rehost some environments.
It is now beginning infrastructure as a service adoption for some dormant environments, like test training and development, Kountze said.
There's still a long way to go. The organization "mistakenly thought" it would hit peak projects and integration initiatives by 2017. But work is still underway and focus is turning to operations, and the two to three systems the company still has to replatform.
The forward-looking tech strategy, worked for some underlying systems, but it pushed customer experience to the backseat.
"When we went into the merger we were very focused on integrating and becoming one company and we lost a few years of the whole customer experience piece," Kountze said. In the last two to three years, Eversource has "had to play a lot of catch up there."