Winning Hearts and Minds Strategy for Acquisition and Integration
A conversation with Chris Thomas, Managing Director, Technology and Innovation, Moody’s Analytics Accelerator
One of the hardest things to get right after an acquisition is integrating the two company’s technologies. That’s precisely what Chris Thomas, Managing Director of Technology and Innovation in the Moody’s Analytics Accelerator did after Moody’s acquired REIS, a U.S. commercial real estate data provider. As the technology lead of Moody’s Analytics Accelerator, Thomas’s role is to support new product development and integration of acquisitions, making sure that technologies are aligned effectively. Jeff Drew from AWS spoke with Thomas about how REIS and the Moody’s Analytics Accelerator met their integration goals and what learnings were derived that could benefit future acquisitions.
Side-by-side from the beginning
Jeff Drew: What planning did you do to make sure the technology aspects of the REIS acquisition would be successful?
Chris Thomas: We acquired REIS because of their data assets and depth of expertise and with a vision to become a leader in commercial real estate data and analytics. We always knew technology was going to be a key area of focus and viewed it as an opportunity.
Jeff Drew: From the beginning, you took some culture-meshing steps. Tell us how you got started?
Chris Thomas: Understanding culture is essential to a successful technology integration. By understanding why certain processes have been adopted by the workforce, we can get much clearer insight into how to create infrastructure that combines the best of both approaches. Right after the acquisition, we moved the entire Accelerator team into the REIS offices and embedded ourselves side-by-side with their team. We wanted them to understand that we were there to work together. We also made the strategic choice to involve AWS in the technology integration at the beginning to ensure we were moving forward making the best choices for the business and project goals. It took us two months to get through the history of the technology and assess the challenges. That assessment laid the groundwork and was essential in planning our future state technology.
Jeff Drew: How did you manage the people side of the acquisition?
Chris Thomas: I spent a lot of time in the first few months getting to know the REIS technology team in one-on-one meetings, lunches, and team meetings with the goal of creating an environment where REIS and our Accelerator team could get to know one another and lay the groundwork to evolve the technology. A big learning for me was that the REIS team received projects very different than I assumed they would. For example, I was unsure about how open the team would be toward our new direction, but was positively surprised early on. From the outset, the team was eager to advance their skills and understanding of AWS and work with us to embrace new approaches.
Winning hearts and minds
Jeff Drew: We’ve talked about winning hearts and minds through integration. Which initiative do you think was key at the beginning?
Chris Thomas: We wanted our first minimum viable product (MVP) to have an immense business impact, be achievable, and be something we could deliver in 10 to 12 weeks to drive confidence in the organization. That’s important for setting the tone for any integration.
Jeff Drew: Agreed, it’s an important “people” factor. Of the different projects, what’s an example of simplifying and building confidence with the new team?
Chris Thomas: We decided to tackle a cumbersome tax file ingestion process first. The process we started with took eight to 10 weeks to process the data using a mixture of Excel, Access, and SQL server. And if something failed, you had to restart the whole thing. We took this manual process and turned it into an automated cloud-based process that ran in four hours. And instead of just processing in batches of 8 million properties at a time, we captured the entire universe of 60 million properties by scaling it in the cloud. That was a huge win.
Chris’ Keys to Successful Integration
- Embed the two teams side-by-side: Let the acquistion’s folks know you are there to work with them.
- Spend a few months getting to know their people: Your first impressions may not be right.
- Choose an initial MVP with a high chance of success: And a big business impact to boost confidence.
- Give lots of recognition for their efforts: It helps win hearts and minds.
- Take a hybrid approach: Change the culture, but have their people help you do it.
Jeff Drew: That’s a great example, what impact did that have on solidifying the integration of the team?
Chris Thomas: When you go through a project like that, it has a bonding effect. You not only work together as a team, but you share in the celebration of success, which has a big impact. We made sure the team we acquired had the opportunity to expand their thinking, and got a lot of recognition for their efforts, which helped to win hearts and minds.
A hybrid approach to integration
Jeff Drew: How would you describe your approach to technology integration as compared to other companies?
Chris Thomas: When you acquire a company, there are three things you can do. One is to leave the acquisition alone. You bought a valuable business, so don’t break it. The second is to go in and integrate their entire technology stack into your centralized platform. In the end, if you do everything right, you’ve got a completely integrated acquisition. . We took a hybrid approach with the REIS technology integration. Rather than try to change the technology culture of the team, we encouraged them innovate with us. When it comes to sharing data and building new products, we do it by leveraging application programming interfaces (APIs), not by getting everyone into one master database. With this approach, we now have two businesses that can act like one. This enables us to establish credibility with our new colleagues while making significant progress with the integration.
Jeff Drew: Watching Moody’s integrate acquisitions, it seems you don’t let problems defeat you. You work through them. You’re resilient. What may have felt like a series of challenges, you’ve actually developed a successful strategy. I know you’ve scaled this acquisition approach, tell us how you’ve done that?
Chris Thomas: We got everyone into the same communication pipelines, like Slack, and got the new teams into the same email utility so we could see each other’s calendars. These are the things that a lot of people don’t think about, but that make a big difference. The sooner you get these two companies on one tooling and communication system, the more quickly you can move forward together.
About our guests
Managing Director, Technology and Innovation, Moody’s Analytics Accelerator
Chris is a Managing Director of the Moody’s Analytics Content division heading the Platform Technology Solutions team and reporting to Dan Russell, Executive Director. Chris joined Moody’s in 2001, as part of the research division, where he built the Expected Default Frequency (EDF) production process. In 2008 he transitioned to lead the Moodys.com development team, launching the redesigned website in 2009.
Prior to Moody’s, Chris was a manager in Ernst and Young’s Security Audit practice, he lead a team that provided solutions to fortune 500 firms in the area of information security and risk. Prior to E&Y, he was a consultant for IBM’s Global Services division, providing strategic direction for both the Banking and Insurance sectors.
Chris holds a Bachelor of Mathematics and Computer Science with distinction, from the University of Waterloo, Canada.
Account Manager, Amazon Web Services
Jeff started as a network programmer then transitioned to McKinsey. Leaving McKinsey, Jeff started and sold two small technology companies serving financial services. He has also launched and grown global technology products for NYSE, now an ICE subsidiary, and Thomson Reuters. Recently, Jeff consulted for Ernst and Young, advising financial clients on technology strategy ranging from resiliency maturity to acquisition integration to IT policy, standards, and controls. Jeff stays current by programming, including an Android app.