Technology Overhaul Unites a Global Enterprise

A medical equipment business, once a conglomeration of two dozen-plus acquisitions, becomes a synchronized international machine.

Sunrise Medical CIO Geoff Cooper had just arrived home in Boulder, Colo., after a tiring trip to Europe when he got a call from the night shift at the IT department. The company's Australian subsidiary had mistakenly posted confidential customer pricing information on Sunrisemedical.com and wanted to shut down the company's Web site just as the business day was starting in Europe.

Cooper got on the phone to Australia. Although the problem was solved without having to take down the website, the potential outage highlighted the flip side of global integration: As more and more midmarket businesses expand around the world, the need for tightly integrated IT systems becomes greater -- but so does the potential for business disruptions.

Sunrise has been grappling with this paradox for several years. Since 2001, new management has been methodically transforming the company from a loosely organized collection of medical equipment businesses in different countries into a truly unified midmarket multinational. By the time Sunrise finishes the last phase of its technology overhaul, which is expected to take place in 2008, the company will have turned 17 autonomous IT fiefdoms into a single entity that powers the sale of products from wheelchairs to hospital beds that are designed globally but sold locally.

"We're on a journey," says Cooper. "A criticism could be that we're going too damn slow, but we wanted to minimize risk to the business, and we've been on a learning path on how to make this happen for a midsized company. In larger companies, we'd have tens of millions [of dollars] for change management. Here we don't have that kind of funding."

This was first published in September 2006

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