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What is IT Strategy?

July 7th, 2014 by
What is Business and IT Strategy?

Business & IT Strategy

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:

 

Making IT and ERP Investments Strategic and Business Aligned

What I discovered is almost universal confusion of what is tactical and strategic. The reason is simple, strategy is hard–, really, really hard. You can take a more limited and more focused approach to produce tactical advantages, and in turn many refer to a tactical advantage as a strategy. Here is an oversimplification:

  • Tactics – execution steps which provide short term wins (short term competitive advantage)
  • Strategy – methods, which includes tactics, to prevent opponents from winning (mid-long term barriers to competition)

Tactics are often related to operational effectiveness, or, how well you execute in a given area or context.  You gain an advantage for a period of time but your improvements (tactics) can be reproduced by competitors.  Strategy is more directly related to market strength. How well you engage, penetrate, and hold markets compared to your competitors.

For an illustration of tactics vs. strategy, hockey player Wayne Gretzky said: “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?

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, demonstrates IT value. By focusing efforts at creating barriers to competition (holding market share), IT becomes strategic. A business example would be,

Customer acquisition is more like a tactic (an event) while customer retention and selling into your customer base is strategic.

What Does an IT Strategy Look Like?

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 leadership, 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 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.

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Building an Effective SAP ERP Delivery Organization

November 5th, 2012 by
Effective SAP Delivery

Effective SAP Delivery

There are generally 3 big components for improving SAP delivery.  These 3 components have the capability of improving SAP and technology delivery in general while impacting corporate business performance and marketplace success.

  • Delivery Approach
  • Delivery Methodology
  • IT Organizational Development

The following content is written with a focus on SAP, however it can be completely generalized to virtually any IT organization.

  1. A careful focus on the delivery approach is needed.  Here there are 2 key paradigms to focus on.  The first paradigm is service delivery vs. value delivery (SAP Service Delivery versus Value Delivery), and the second paradigm is software engineering vs. business process engineering (SAP Implementation Focus: Engineer Software or Business Processes?).
  2. A formal, structured, internal delivery methodology.  This should include a “checklist” of all project requirements including templates, tools, and resources for project delivery.  Because I know SAP I use it, however they have a powerful methodology which can also be generalized to virtually any IT project.  For more information see Why Use the SAP ASAP Methodology?
  3. A strong focus on IT organizational development.  The current “best practices” around IT Organizational Development includes a 3 tiered maturity structure:  Service provider, Business Partner, and Business Peer (Organizational Change Management Inside the SAP IT Support Organization).  The second part of that is a structured approach to creating the premier IT “Center of Excellence,” converged business-IT delivery organization (see SAP Service Provider to Business Peer Through Center of Excellence Maturity).  You can use 3 Development Phases for SAP Center of Excellence Maturity as a completely structured organizational outline.  It includes key activities and maturity steps.

Adopting these three pillars will create a great foundation for your company or organization for the long term.  They will also help immediately and transform your enterprise in the mid-term.




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Achieve Business Benefit Through SAP Prototype Demonstrations

July 16th, 2012 by
Imagine what is possible by showing what is achievable

Functionality Prototype and Demonstration

SAP Conference Room Proof of Concept Pilots

Proof of Concepts with frequent early prototyping drive project costs down.  It is like the old saying that “an ounce of prevention can avoid a pound of cure.”  Proof of concept pilots during the project is one of the rarely mentioned SAP critical success factors. 

Early in my SAP career I used to get a little frustrated by the disruption these prototype sessions, conference room pilots, or whatever you want to call them would cause.  My thought was I had a job to do and didn’t have time for this.  No one ever stopped to help me understand WHY these pilots and prototypes are important.

Before I get into the substance of this let me first be very clear about what I am referring to–, a prototype, pilot, or demonstration is ACTUAL system functionality set up in the application to demonstrate transactional business processing.  I have heard of some system integrators who call PowerPoint process flows these types of “pilots” and that is completely ridiculous.  That is just regurgitating SAP Blueprint process flows and is NOT a prototype, pilot, or system demonstration at all.

Stop the SAP Consulting Merry Go Round – Real Life Experiences

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to work through a complex issue and going around and around with meetings, discussions, process flows, etc.  At one client we had a very complex third party process which involved one foreign company code doing sales deliveries for a domestic company code, but the domestic company would bill the customer and collect the cash, the foreign company would do inter-company billing, etc.  There was not only third party processing involved, there was also foreign trade, batch, and serial number tracking required (YUCK!).

After getting a large and very expensive group of consultants together with key client resources we hammered the first pass out.  Then we did it again a few days later, and then again a few days later.  After about 4 or 5 weeks of this madness it turns out the consultants were the problem more than the client.  Several of the consultants essentially said this couldn’t be done.

To stop the complete waste of time I left the last meeting and spent 3 days setting up a prototype the consultants said couldn’t be done.  Now, in their defense it is complicated and it DOES involve setup in SD, MM, PP, FI, and EDI.  Very FEW consultants have ever done this type of integrated setup.  I scheduled a DEMONSTRATION with all of the key stakeholders and project leadership to put this issue to rest.  The SAP standard functionality covered approximately 90% of the overall requirement and we were now discussing small tweaks or changes that were required rather than trying to over engineer a customized process mess!

Reduce SAP Implementation Cost, Improve SAP Quality, and Manage SAP Scope More Effectively

Using Conference Room Pilots, or Functionality Playbacks is effective for difficult to understand processes system demonstrations.  This technique can significantly reduce meeting times and increase customer satisfaction.

Stanford professors Carleton and Cokayne spent seven years studying the user of physical prototypes in “foresight engineering” which is the ongoing development of products or services that are three or more product cycles in the future.  They studied the use of prototypes for “capturing and communicating a team’s opportunities inside the organization, connecting the company’s vision and strategy with… day-to-day [engineering design work], and helping teams to connect vision to research to engineering design.”  Carleton, T., and Cockayne, W., (2009) The Power of Prototypes in Foresight Engineering.  International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED’09/493, Stanford University, August 24-27 2009, page 1.

The use of prototypes has been found to “make ideas tangible, iterate quickly at a low cost, and develop a shared language” (ibid.).  These demonstrations are part of the change management process and can help to bring the broader organization along in the process. In the second half of the post on ERP, SAP, or IT Project Management and Prototyping for Success more detail is provided for the following items:

  • System demonstrations focus on delivering what is important while allowing for early adjustments.
  • Complex or difficult functionality demonstrations help reduce the overall amount of meeting time.
  • System demonstrations identify gaps and problems earlier reducing the number of testing defects and rework time.
  • Early demonstrations help ensure scope is properly accounted for and last minute process surprises are reduced.
  • Some performance problems are exposed.
  • Possible schedule and work completion issues may be exposed while they might still be manageable.

By doing a LOT of prototypes early in a project you also quickly separate the good IT resources from those who are not so talented or even those who are complete fakes.

Conclusion on Using SAP Prototypes, Functionality Demonstrations or Conference Room Pilots for Project Success

Just as the real world example I noted above shows, by using prototypes or demonstrations to understand where the real business requirement gaps are you may be able to avoid a major investment in custom development work.  And by avoiding that development you reduce ongoing maintenance headaches.

As for dealing with scheduling and work completion I have been on many projects where some of the consultants or team leads would simply lie about their status and completion.  By having a clearly defined pilot and playback schedule throughout the project for certain key functionality you help to ensure that what is committed is actually delivered.  Too many times the real status does not show up until testing starts, or worse still, items get taken out of scope because of misleading status.  By then it is too late.




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