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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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Integrating Business Stakeholders as Part of SAP IT Convergence

August 29th, 2011 by
Business to IT Convergence with an SAP Center of Excellence

IT Convergence

The other day I was having a conversation with an IT executive from one of America’s largest companies.  I was really interested in his perspective as a hard working senior level IT insider.  We started talking about the role of IT and business as well as the future of business and technology.  In the process I relayed my passion for how IT needs to integrate with the business and how the future was going to change significantly (see e.g. What is the Proper Relationship for the CIO, CEO, and CFO?).

I gained a new appreciation for how difficult an IT executive’s job can be when the economy is in turmoil.  I’m sure my comments and perspective were challenging but here is part of what I gained from that conversation (my assumptions and my “read” may be wrong)…

The wider global technology discussion (inside and outside of the company) is putting real pressure on IT return on investment, IT Convergence, and full integration with the business (see Steps to Achieve SAP IT Convergence).  Even while all of this takes place there is still a critical need to stay on top of technology trends and be sure the organization does not stagnate.  To stay competitive what does he do with “cloud” processing, do they need different applications for some of their processes (CRM, APO,SRM, etc.), what about social media (does it even fit), virtualization, shared services, service excellence, outsourcing, in-sourcing, etc., etc., etc.

This executive’s IT organization is being challenged to do more with less.  As a result of cost-cutting pressures his organization is having to look at outsourcing while he also has to maintain a positive and upbeat appearance in the face of working through difficult cuts.  He has to continue encouraging and rallying the troops while some of them will not be there.

A Simple Response to the Nagging Problem of Business IT Convergence

With all of this background in mind one of his responses to me set me back a moment for its simplicity, candor, and most of all the underlying frustration.  It is certainly one of those very difficult struggles that many corporate technology leaders today face:

“What is the business responsibility for this?”

The business not only has responsibility but they have to help drive solutions and delivery. The various business stakeholders must see, understand, and then accept their role in developing the technology roadmap. And once it is developed they must help ensure its execution.

The Business to IT Convergence Solution That Was There All Along

The IT Convergence approach in the SAP enterprise is partially based on best practices around IT Governance.  By creating a governance structure that involves and integrates both the business and IT stakeholders you gain business buy-in and involvement.  I have written a solution brief on this approach and provide a free, no-obligation MS Access application to build technology roadmaps (see the Solution Brief, governance process, and application overview here:  Beyond Technology Alignment )

The basic takeaway here is that business involvement is critical.  They are already making technology investments, with, or without your involvement. So it is critical to gain that convergence so that technology investments are performed as a partnership and not in isolation.  As a recent Harvard Business Review post by Ray Wang notes:

“[O]verall corporate tech spending is up by 17 to 20% in our latest data, spending by IT departments is flat at best. It’s business leaders, not their IT colleagues, who are driving purchasing decisions.”

Coming to Terms with the Consumerization of IT, http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/07/coming_to_terms_with_the_consu.html and a followup with more details on his site at:  http://blog.softwareinsider.org/2011/08/22/mondays-musings-balancing-the-six-ss-in-consumerization-of-it/ (both retrieved 8/23/2011)

So the key here is to integrate the business into the IT and application infrastructure.  One way to do that is through leveraging SAP steering committee skills and business connections to ensure meaningful involvement by IT.

Additional Steps to SAP IT Convergence – Creating the Center of Excellence

Last week’s post provided a few high level steps to achieve SAP IT Convergence, and this week I am adding to that list the following items.

  • Pursue business executive sponsorship but don’t wait for it to get started.
  • Start a communication program
  • Engage at all levels of the organization
  • Conduct one or more pilot programs and capture lessons learned
  • Hold IT staff accountable for participation
  • Don’t let available tools stifle participation or innovation

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Create SAP Convergence Instead of Business to IT Alignment

April 4th, 2011 by
Convergence is the answer beyond business to IT alignment in the SAP organization

Business to IT Convergence

This is part of an ongoing exploration of creating an SAP or Technology “Center of Excellence” within your enterprise.  For the background and key insights on this approach see the Series on SAP Competency Center or SAP Center of Excellence .

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The real future of technology is for IT to integrate with business, or in other words to “converge” business and technology.  The idea of “aligning” with business is too weak of a statement to define what IT and SAP must do within the enterprise to generate significant ROI.

Think about it, during the course of an SAP project the focus is on integrating the enterprise into a single data repository with dependent process chains.  Somehow that same level of integration is not required of the business and IT after you go live.

Product Convergence Lessons for Next Generation SAP Organizations

Convergence, convergence, convergence, what do I mean by convergence?  The idea behind convergence is the enabling of business with technology so that the two can not be distinguished from each other.  It means the lines between business and IT departments must be deliberately blurred.

Although the following examples are about product convergence they are great illustrations for how business and IT should integrate, or “converge” their functions.

  • ARPAnet which was created by the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Project’s group eventually became the Internet.  This was originally an advanced data and communications “fabric” that could withstand a nuclear war and route both data and communications in the event whole areas of the network were unavailable.  That back-end technology was later combined with early graphical software to create the public Internet as a global information resource never seen before in human history.
  • E-mail was a convergence of network technology with hardware, communication protocols, and then combined with software applications.  These combined to create a new form of communication which has transformed both business and social structures.  That convergence has extended to the Internet for various forms of “webmail.”
  • The advent of the personal computer and its increasing power made the way for decentralized processing in the form of “client-server” based applications.  Central business functions and tools could run on a server but each user’s experience and application needs could be tailored at their individual workstations.
  • ERP applications such as SAP’s ERP suite were made possible by the need for a centralized source of data, at the intersection of databases, network technology, and software user interfaces.  “Cloud” based applications or Software as a Service (SaaS) were an extension of that convergence to include remote hardware sourcing and access through the Internet.
  • Social media was the next “extension” of collaborative technologies.  They converged the Internet’s ability to connect people with software applications that allowed people to communicate in new ways. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and others are moving forward by connecting people to share more information in real time.

Look at most of Apple’s products.  For many years the Mac PCs and laptops only had marginal market share, while it is increasing it was their other products, their “convergent” products which produced explosive market penetration.  What was the difference?  It was convergence, the convergence of the customer experience with the things people use (see Business Strategy and IT Strategy to Reproduce Apple Innovation ).

What is Really Different About Apple Anyway?

Since Apple is so successful today we will look at their example.  The iPhone, iPad, iPod, all have one thing in common–, they took the idea of usability around the convergence of several technology streams to the next level.  Apple leveraged technology, communication, and entertainment to create something MORE than just a Graphical User Interface (or GUI), they created something useful for entertainment.  Apple products are a pleasure to use–, they created a “user experience.”  In the iPhone, even with its irritating lack of integrated e-mail calendar integration, it is a powerful business and personal communications tool which would have been considered a miniature PC a few years ago.

Apple didn’t really invent anything new.  Apple found that place of “convergence” with quality technology products and user experience

Apple didn’t invent the cell phone, portable music (remember Sony’s Walkman?), Internet data delivery (think, music sharing streaming software).  What Apple did was converge these technologies with a great front-end and delivery system.  Or as Steve Jobs has said, they “put a Mac in a cell phone.”  Apple also went one step further, they sought to own the entire content delivery infrastructure and the hardware architecture for their devices.  For the iPod it was the music delivery system (think iTunes), for the iPhone and iPad it was the extension of iTunes to add an Application store, etc.

That is an example of a product convergence that has had huge market impact.

Business and IT Convergence Can Transform Your Company

If we take this product concept one step further and apply it to IT and Business there are ways to bring about “convergence” in the IT enabled enterprise.

Business-technology convergence and business-technology management are terms that spring from a simple idea: Technology is a means for achieving business objectives; therefore, managing business and technology together provides significantly better results than managing them in separate silos. By converging business and technology management, enterprises can nimbly respond to changing marketplace dynamics, technology evolutions and competitive pressures—capabilities that are especially important during an economic downturn. [FN1]

[C]onverged enterprises know when to change the rules to maintain a strategic advantage over their competitors—and to sense and respond to changes in the marketplace.

I am a strong advocate for the convergence of roles between business and IT–, how will the IT organization know and understand the business “rules” without participating directly in business?

The best convergence candidates are likely your power users or super users who participated in your SAP project.  They come from the business but have exposure to the system and the challenges around IT.  The IT folks should also work in the business areas to become “super analysts.”  They need to know and understand how business actually gets done so they can figure out the best way to apply technology for business objectives to be addressed.

Completing the SAP Convergence

On top of the business users being integrated into IT and IT integrated into the business, the steering committee must not be disbanded.  This need cannot be stressed strongly enough.  That group of senior level business individuals are a key part of the “glue” for a successful and ongoing transformation of the business.  They are one of the critical ingredients for convergence to occur.

If you continue to develop your key business users and maintain your steering committee you have a power organization structure in place to build on convergence of business technology. For more information on the importance of continuing involvement by the steering committee long after the SAP project has gone live see my previous post on Using Your SAP Steering Committee for Business Transformation .

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[FN1]  http://www.baselinemag.com/c/a/Business-Intelligence/The-Value-of-Convergence-236013/




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