We hear it almost every day, IT Strategy, Business Strategy, strategic customer accounts, strategic widgets, etc. Strategy is applied to so many areas and so many things that the word has almost become meaningless. The term “strategy” has become trite because it is used so much with so little understanding.
With all the buzz around strategy, and the lack of clarity and simplicity for what Strategy actually IS, I did a lot of research several years ago and produced my own model:
What I discovered is almost universal confusion of what is tactical and strategic. The reason is simple, strategy is hard– really, really hard. Tactics are not easy but lots of folks can take a more limited and more focused approach to produce tactical advantages, and in turn they call this strategy. Here is an oversimplification:
- Tactics – execution steps which provide short term wins (short term competitive advantage)
- Strategy – methods, which includes the tactics, to prevent opponents from winning (mid-long term barriers to competition)
Looked at another way, tactics are more like operational effectiveness. This is how well you execute in a given area or context. Strategy is more directly related to market strength. How well you engage, penetrate, and hold markets in comparison to your competitors.
For an illustration of tactics vs. strategy, Wayne Gretzky said it best: “I skate to where the puck is gonna be, not where it has been.” Most hockey players ran to the puck where it was in play, just in time to see it passed to another player. Gretzky would go to where the puck was going to be and was prepared for the puck when it arrived.
Do You Have an IT Strategy?
First let me be candid, at the risk of offending my CIO and CTO friends at some pretty large companies, I’m not sure there is a genuine “IT Strategy.” Unless you are in a Technology business I don’t think the term applies.
There IS however an IT Enabled Business Strategy. By ensuring IT is focused on Business Strategy, the IT organization becomes a strategic business asset. By focusing on how IT can help a business to become more competitive now (tactical), by gaining market share, helps IT demonstrate value. By focusing on how IT can work create barriers to competition (hold on to market share), IT becomes strategic. To put this in business terms, customer acquisition is more like a tactic (an event) while customer retention and selling into your customer base is strategic.
What Would an IT Strategy Look Like?
What do I mean by all this? If your IT organization is able to engage, penetrate, and hold the “internal IT market” within your enterprise, you might have an “IT Strategy.” Like any marketspace, if you are doing this through monopoly power, then you are not strategic but relying on enterprise enforcement to ensure your monopoly position. It is only a matter of time, or changing directors, that this monopoly will be broken up. Business units across various enterprises are taking their own budgets and bypassing the “IT monopoly” through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), Cloud, etc.
If you are not operating in a monopoly environment, the way to engage, penetrate, and hold the IT organization’s “market” is to deliver real, lasting, and hard to duplicate value to the greater enterprise.
Conclusion on Building a Strategy
This short post only scratches the surface of strategy development. However, if you really want to become strategic you must learn your enterprise’s competitive landscape. If you can’t identify your enterprise’s marketspace competitive pressures, and understand your place in those areas, then real strategy will be elusive if not impossible. In fact, even genuine tactical advantage will be extremely difficult. After all, what are you trying to gain competitive advantage against?
So, if you want to make an SAP, ERP, or other IT project strategic it is important to understand how to design for business value and competitive advantage.