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I used to work for an affable person from Chicago. His two favourite phrases were “Let’s talk strat” and “Brought your cheque book with you?”

There are many misconceptions about strategy. But, I particularly want to address two things:

  • What is business strategy?
  • What is IT (information technology) strategy?

So, without more ado, let’s get the baby off the ground.

Business Strategy

So what is business strategy? Here is a very brief description that I cooked up earlier for the Twitter page of goodstrat.com:

“Good strategy is a cohesive and coherent response to a significant challenge.”

Simples!

Strategy is about designing and, more importantly, executing a deliberate plan to respond to a substantial and manifest opportunity. Good strategy is not a PowerPoint slide deck, Big Data or the casting of sortes.  It should not be complicated, obtuse, or impractical.  It’s not a wish list, or a warm and fuzzy expression of faith or a muddled concoction of conviction, discrimination and bias. That is what people come up with when they do not know what they are doing, when they want to dazzle you with side-lining flim-flam or are simply winging it.

Good strategy is practical, effective and doable.

IT at the Business Strategy table

Should IT be at the strategy table?

Yes, always. Almost everything of significance that happens in modern business includes some element of ICT (information and communications technology). So, yes. Make sure that IT is in the ‘strat’ meetings, all of them. But, don’t use it as a ploy to get an army of IT related CXOs into the C-Suite. That attitude makes IT look dopey, detached and otherworldly. So get one or two people – preferably the CIO and the CTO – into that setting and make sure they can listen, understand and be proactive.

When putting together a cohesive and coherent response to a significant challenge the business must understand what the options are, and what these options mean in terms of risk, reality and responsibility, as well as cost, quality and time and place utilities.

Not only is IT part of the business strategy formulation but IT in turn treats the business strategy as their own “significant challenge”, which may drive the need for a separate IT strategy.

Do we need an IT Strategy?

Of course, if IT is a big part of your business, then you will need an IT strategy. In fact, have more than one. It’s always good to have a Plan B and it’s always good to have an alternative strategy, just in case.

However, do we need to come up with a new IT strategy every time the business adopts a new business strategy?

  • Well, it depends. If the new business strategy does not represent a significant challenge to IT, and is accommodated within the present ‘business as usual’ strategy, then it does not require a new IT strategy.
  • A business strategy that requires some small changes to operational systems also does not call for a new IT strategy.
  • Conversely, anything that requires a significant response from IT, must also be accompanied by a coherent and cohesive IT strategy.

Strategy is about action, if you are not planning to do anything significantly different then you do not need a strategy.

I know that some people will see this as overstating the obviously obvious, but believe me, not many people get this right, even with the ‘help’ of strategy consulting houses and other syndicated poster-makers. Especially in businesses where conformity to preconceived ideas and cracker-barrel business philosophy, whether correct or not, is encouraged.

Difficulties

There are times when it is difficult to come up with an adequate IT strategy:

  • The business might not have a formalised strategy.
  • The business might not have a clue about strategy formulation.
  • There is a strategy, but it is rubbish, unusable or meaningless.
  • Business leaders can become uncomfortable when asked about their business strategy.
  • IT has a lousy reputation of understanding, or even wanting to know anything about the business strategy, or indeed anything about the business itself, beyond that required to analyse, design, code, test and implement applications and databases.

However, that is no excuse for not knowing how to come up with a good strategy and then doing ‘great strategizing’.

Be prepared

Ideally, IT is business driven, market focussed and technology based, and what IT does, especially in terms of business strategy, should be adequate, appropriate and timely. But, that requires continuous preparation.

For IT to be strategic effective, it must provide:

  • Business, technology and resource alignment and advantage
  • Enabling technology – not just products, but tech stack mixes, and who is doing what and with what
  • Business knowledge – knowledge not just of The Business but also of similar business
  • Business development skills – IT got this partly right when it started to appoint customer relationship managers, but they got it very wrong by hiring the wrong people for the task

For example, let’s take a look at an idealistic view of the ‘marketing driven’ Information Management organisation (based on Iniciativa’s Knowledge Asset Management Organisation) as a separate entity but adjunct to IT. Such an organisation could be used for empowering business competitiveness through the provision of adequate, appropriate and timely information … driven by the needs of the business… through continual improvements in knowledge and experience… by focusing on delivery of service excellence in Information Management… and by continually negotiating business needs and priorities.

That’s all folks

Bottom line. IT should be helping to shape strategy, tactics and operational awareness, every step of the way; it should be proactive in identifying opportunities, designing options and selling (yes, the real selling of) coherent, cohesive and doable solutions. Solutions that offer tangible business benefits.

To reiterate, a good IT strategy is “a cohesive and coherent response to a significant challenge.”

So let’s talk strat!

Thanks very much for reading. As always, if you have any questions, criticisms or tips then please post it below and I will try my best to answer.

#Strategy #BusinessStrategy #ITStrategy #GoodStrategy #InformationTechnology

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