University Business November/December 2019 - 42

Voices in Tech

Nassar Nizami

By Steven Blackburn

When two become one
Managing IT (and expectations) when institutions merge
What was the most challenging aspect of integrating technology at the
two universities?
Integrating technology was the easy part. Managing expectations was challenging.
The belief was that students, faculty and other staff would have similar technological
experiences at both campuses once the merger was complete. For example, we thought
that students would be able to use their badges or to access library resources immediately. But that wasn't the case.
NASSAR NIZAMI, senior vice
president and CIO, Thomas
Jefferson University (Pa.)

Combining two institutions involves
myriad challenges. At UB Tech®
2019, Nassar Nizami of Thomas
Jefferson University in Philadelphia
discussed the process of merging with
Philadelphia University in 2017.
Nizami came to Thomas Jefferson
University two months after the merger
process began, with previous experience
taking part in systems integrations
during consolidations of large academic
medical centers.
Nizami also has operations expertise
in instituting successful IT governance
and structure programs.
During the 18-month integration
process at Jefferson, Nizami learned
how to successfully manage change in
higher ed, and identified staff retention
and communication strategies. "I
can't emphasize the importance of
communication enough," says Nizami.
"You need to highlight all of the values
and advantages of your merger to staff."
For more information on UB Tech®
2020, visit ubtechconference.com.

UBmag.me/nnizami
42 | November/December 2019

What did you do to ease the transition for employees?
We recognized that their top concerns were about their roles and responsibilities. We
were transparent in our communication with employees. We assured them that there
would be no immediate plans to consolidate locations or to change their overall work
structure. This allowed staff to continue their jobs while they learned about each other's culture, technologies in use, organizational structure, partnerships with vendors,
and strengths and weaknesses.
What advice can you offer other higher ed institutions from your experience
of identifying what to share or consolidate?
There's an expectation that institutions can consolidate IT resources quickly and
leverage their scale to be more efficient. In reality, it takes time to understand different technologies, IT architecture, stakeholder expectations and vendor relationships.
For instance, school leaders should realize that consolidating IT contracts takes much
longer than is usually expected. This is especially true for multiyear contracts in which
vendors don't have any incentive to change. So be mindful of actual savings.
First, focus on consolidating back-office technologies, such as enterprise resource
management, since they have the least amount of impact on students and faculty.
Next, consolidate the assets that have more of an impact on them, such as student
information and learning management systems.
What might you do differently if you were involved in a future merger?
First, I would start the due diligence and planning process much earlier. It's better to
understand that there are limitations to what can and cannot be discussed during different phases of merger and acquisition activity.
Second, even though we made sure to communicate with employees, in hindsight,
we could have done more. We did all the right things, including communicating via
email, posting regular updates on websites, organizing town hall meetings, and scheduling regular team and one-on-one meetings. However, we could have communicated
more about the advantages of consolidation and standardization, such as more opportunities for upward career mobility and new options for various types of training.
I would also clearly communicate the importance of blending the two university
cultures so that the combined product is stronger than the previous cultures.
Lastly, I would focus more on staff retention. Team members have ample opportunities to go elsewhere for employment. Make sure you're keeping the talent within the
organization by providing more opportunities.
Steven Blackburn is associate editor of UB.
UniversityBusiness.com


http://www.ubtechconference.com http://www.UBmag.me/nnizami http://www.UniversityBusiness.com

University Business November/December 2019

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