Winning the post-merger war

When tough decisions have to be made fast, the company with the most "organized" data holds a strategic advantage.
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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.



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