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How to Mitigate Security Risks during Mergers and Acquisitions

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Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) represent opportunities for businesses to grow and diversify. However, they are complex to negotiate on many levels. One of the main challenges is that of security.

A blend of diverse business cultures, systems, and technology stacks, are among the factors that complicate this transition. In the current climate where data breaches are making daily headlines, a meticulous approach is required during a process where unique vulnerabilities can be potentially exploited.

This article examines these risks in detail and describes some best practices designed to mitigate the risks at each stage of the M&A process.

Pre-Merger Phase: Due Diligence

Security is probably not the first consideration that companies address during the M&A pre-merger phase, but it should certainly warrant due diligence at every step.

Here are some of the main risks to consider during the pre-merger phase:

  • Data breaches: The process of merging IT systems can expose vulnerabilities, making valuable data susceptible to unauthorized access.
  • Compliance issues: Ensuring that both entities adhere to relevant regulatory standards becomes more complex, especially when operating across different jurisdictions.
  • Integration challenges: The technical task of integrating disparate systems and technologies can inadvertently introduce security gaps.

Forewarned is forearmed and the earlier in the process these risks are recognized, the better. Each of these risks not only represents potential financial liabilities but can also damage trust and reputation. This is bad news at any time – but can be particularly devastating for a newly formed entity.

During the Merger: Integration and Consolidation

Successfully merging the IT infrastructure of two companies is a critical point where security risks must be carefully managed.

Key considerations during this stage include:

  • Unified security protocols: Establishing a common set of security policies and protocols is crucial to ensure a secure transition. This includes positioning on data encryption standards, access controls, and incident response strategies.
  • Employee training and awareness: As staff from both companies begin to operate within the merged infrastructure, comprehensive security training becomes critical.
  • Thorough system audits: Conducting detailed audits of all merged systems and applications can uncover hidden vulnerabilities. This process should involve identifying unnecessary access points and ensuring that all software is up to date with the latest security patches.

This is one of the most challenging phases, merging disparate IT systems even within an organization is always trying. This is amplified multifold when the systems in question are from different organizations, often with differing cultures, protocols, and structure.

Post-Merger: Ongoing Monitoring and Improvement

In essence, this step applies to all businesses at all times. However, it is especially relevant after a merger as it takes time for the dust to settle after what is usually a highly disruptive process.

Among the key considerations at this stage of the M&A process are:

    • Regular security assessments: Conducting periodic security evaluations helps identify new vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of current security measures.
    • Updating security protocols: New threats are continually emerging and updating security policies and protocols ensures the organization keeps abreast of these. A thorough review of current security measures, such as conducting an office security audit, is essential for identifying areas where improvements are necessary.
  • Cultivating a security-focused culture: Encouraging a culture of security awareness across the organization can significantly mitigate risks. This involves regular training updates and promoting an environment where employees are encouraged to report potential security issues.

The current age of rapid technological advancement highlights the need for ongoing monitoring and improvement of security systems. Advancements like AI, cloud computing, and even the Internet of Things (IoT) all open up possibilities and vulnerabilities in equal measures.

The relevance of this is heightened within newly merged entities where security gaps can easily be overlooked while systems are being integrated.

Best Practices for Mitigating Security Risks during Mergers and Acquisitions

Ultimately, we can sum up the previous sections in a series of best practices designed to aid companies mitigate security risks during mergers and acquisitions:

  • Comprehensive risk assessment: Start with a thorough risk assessment of both entities to identify potential security vulnerabilities early.
  • Integrated security strategy: Develop a unified security strategy that encompasses policies, protocols, and a roadmap for integration, ensuring consistent security postures across the merged organization.
  • Continuous education and training: This is one of the keys to continuous security improvement.
  •       Integrate advanced technologies: Stay ahead of threats by adopting advanced security technologies and trends, ensuring the organization’s defenses evolve with the changing cybersecurity landscape.

While an article of this scope can’t possibly address every step required to ensure a successful – and secure –  M&A process. The above practices represent a framework that can be used to protect assets and reputation during a complex process.

Securing Success in Mergers and Acquisitions

Security is always a business imperative. However, during a merger or acquisition, its importance is heightened exponentially. The unique vulnerabilities that can be exposed during the M&A are something that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority, yet are often brushed under the table as a problem for another day.

The points raised in this article offer guidelines to help ensure a successful merger is also a secure merger.

28-slide PowerPoint presentation
This document provides a guide and framework for best practice in post merger integration. Post merger integration is the process of combining two separate companies in a way that quickly creates the most value and fulfils the expectations outlined in the acquisition vision. The framework [read more]

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M&A is an extremely common strategy for growth. M&A transactions always look great on paper. This is why the buyer typically pays a 10-35% premium over the of the target company's market value.

However, when it comes time for the Post-merger Integration (PMI), are we really able to capture the expected value? Studies show only 20% of organizations capture projected revenue synergies and only 40% capture cost synergies. Not to mention, the PMI process is typically very painful, drawn out, and politically charged, often resulting in the loss of key personnel.

Learn about our Post-merger Integration (PMI) Best Practice Frameworks here.

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About Shane Avron

Shane Avron is a freelance writer, specializing in business, general management, enterprise software, and digital technologies. In addition to Flevy, Shane's articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Forbes Magazine, among other business journals.

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