NEXT SUB-SECTION: Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation >>>
1. "Strategy" widely abused and seldom understood
I continue to encounter sub-optimal Business Information System
implementations. I sit through big brand and not so big brand
system vendor and implementer presentations, sift through their
marketing material and visit their websites. The word "strategy" is scattered
all over the place but frequently in absolutely inappropriate contexts.
If one reads the context of every place that the word"strategy" occurs, one must conclude that there is no
single, coherent, consistent, congruent definition of the word.
To some it is wheeling and dealing, to others it is a plan or a way of
doing things, to others it is an important sounding word to impress
people. The result being that strategy is, in fact, a widely
discounted word. Very few people agree what strategy is, very few
people know how to determine strategy, let alone do strategy, whatever that means.
When it comes to business software I am not sure that I have ever seen the word "strategy" used correctly. Michael Porter says that technology is never strategy, it is what people
do with technology that is
2. The Essence of the organization and how it thrives
What is "strategy"?
Back in 1990 I wrote a paper for a conference on the importance of
aligning business information systems with strategy, and then found that
I could not define strategy. So I started to research the
definition of strategy.
Professor Malcolm McDonald says "strategy is doing the right things, viewed from the perspective of the customer" and "tactics is doing things right, viewed from the perspective of the customer". He goes on to say that if an organization "does the right things well, it will
thrive", if it does them not so well, it will "survive" and if it does the
wrong things, it will "die" it is simply a
mater of how quickly.
The better the organization does the wrong things the faster it will
die! That definition has stuck with me and forms the basis of my
Michel Robert defines "strategic driving force" and
asserts that every organization has a single driving force that will seldom
if ever change. If one gets in the way of that driving force, one
will compromise and damage the organization. If one enhances it,
the organization will thrive.
Professor Michael Porter asserts that "differentiation" is the " essence" of strategy.
three of these authorities significantly influenced my
thinking to the point where I concluded
that"strategy is the essence of the
organization and how it thrives".
It is what is unique, that which differentiates the organization, what makes it stand out so that it attracts and retains customers.
It is that essential something that has brought the organization this far and will propel it into the future. It is the right
things that cause your customers to buy from you. It is the
fundamental element that, if you damage it, you will destroy the
organization and if you do it right the organization will thrive.
Strategic Essence is unique to every organization.
3. Underpin and enhance the essence
The interesting thing about this definition is that when I interview an executive team, individually, one on one, and ask "what is your strategy?" frequently their replies are all over the place.
When I ask them "what is the essence of your organization and how does it thrive?"
they frown, they think, they scratch their heads, but, eventually,
after thinking aloud, the final result of the individual interviews will
generally be a fairly consistent view of the Strategic Essence of their
Once you understand the concept of Strategic Essence, you begin to
understand that this should be the reason you invest in new
systems. It should guide and direct the procurement and
implementation of new systems and business improvement projects because
the concept of the essence embraces the very core of what makes the
This Strategic Essence originated intuitively
from the founders recognizing a market
need and filling it. It embraces differentiation and competitiveness. Organizations thrive
because they are different and yet most systems implementations, focuses
on operational "me too" stuff and gets in the way of the essence and
therefore the competitiveness of the organization.
Some years ago I undertook a short diagnostic investigation,
something that I call a "Pulse Measurement", into a systems implementation that
had been stalled for nearly a year. The client was in the Freight
Forwarding and Clearing business, and they were in the process of
implementing a "best of breed", "industry leader" software package -- the
I interviewed the executive team, one on one and, by the end of the
first day I had established that their market was the 10% of customers
who were very time sensitive, and that they had differentiated
themselves with very tight response times and a service promise which
amounted to "if we promise you delivery by a certain date and time and the clearance is delayed we will make good your loss". They never had to make a payment and they had a portfolio of very satisfied and very loyal customers.
There was major tension with the software company which was also
managing the implementation. The second day of the investigation I
phoned the owner of the software firm in another country and quickly
established that his Strategic Essence was to be the dominant software
provider in the field globally, which meant, of necessity, that he was
focussed on the 90% of the market where service levels and response
times were not such an issue.
There was a fundamental strategic misalignment. I met with the
executive who had briefed me and explained what I had discovered.
He took one look at me and exclaimed "of course! the lights have just gone on!" That single discovery fully explained the tensions, the frustration, the lack of commitment to service, the entire "sorry saga" of a project that had run for eighteen months and caused nothing but heartache and frustration.
That is the power of understanding the Strategic Essence of an
organization. On the strength of that one piece of information,
which delivered a massive "AHA" to the man in charge, the project was
summarily terminated the same day!
I was then engaged to assist the client to select the most
suitable software. Together with my client, we visited three software
companies. At the third presentation the chief executive of the
small niche player, unprompted, said "we are committed to service, in
fact, we are so committed to service that if you miss a deadline as a
consequence of a problem with our software we will reimburse you your
I am sure you can understand that no further evaluation of software was
necessary, at that presentation we ascertained that the software met
the basic needs of the business but much more importantly, we had found a
supplier whose strategic focus was strongly aligned with that of my
client. The software went in without difficulty.
It is not always that simple but failing to ensure alignment at the level of the Strategic Essence will alwaysgive rise to problems, and alignment with the Strategic Essence will always greatly improve the probability of a successful outcome.
5. The essence IS different
6. The essence should be comprehensively communicated
7. The essence should be the point of departure for every project
8. Enhancing the essence should be the focus of every project
9. One size fits all cannot work
hope that this article has provided a different perspective on the relationship between systems and strategy.
I would welcome the opportunity to assist
your organization to put the principles discussed in this article into practice to
assist your organization to thrive.
above is an extract from a longer article which you will receive in instalments. Please email me if you would like the full article immediately.
a one day intervention through a series of one hour interviews with your management
team to assist you to lift out the essence
of your organization, please email me should you require
also offer a comprehensive strategic planning service to engineering
Dr James A Robertson, PrEng
There is a more detailed version of this document at the end of this page for larger projects with a more detailed procurement process
Business Systems NOT delivering?
Call the Business Systems Specialist
Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.
Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.
He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.
If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist
Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.
Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.
All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.
There HAS to be a better way!
This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control
We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website
We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues
By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT
This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.
In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.
Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:
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James has a very detailed profile on LinkedIn should you require further information about him.
You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/DrJamesARobertsonERPDoctor
James has an open networking profile -- click on "Connect" and use email address James@LinkedIn-at-JARA.com.
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There is a large body of white papers, articles and other content produced by Dr James Robertson available on this website
Please click here to visit the detailed listing of articles
About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics
Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures
About the Engineering Approach
James Robertson's Value Add
Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution
Recognizing Business System Failure
The Critical Human Foundation
Old Software IS Viable
From South Africa
Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng
About Professor Malcolm McDonald
Table of Contents
About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing
Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics
Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson
List of Articles
Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes
Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?
The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody
Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration
Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
IT Project Management
CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement
No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes
Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™
The Pulse Measurement Workflow
The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement
Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations
What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?
Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years
Sample Pulse Measurement Reports
Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
Strategic Essence: Overview
Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined
Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation
Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different
Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure
Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence
Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?
Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment
Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual
A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting
Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works
Robust Business Systems Procurement
Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc
Part 3 -- Executive Engagement, Bid Compliance, Adjudication and other matters
Guidance and Advisory Services
The Art of Project Leadership
Why Regular Communication with the CEO is Vital
The Business Simulation Laboratory
Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture
Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies
The JAR&A Cubic Business Model
Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal
The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration
Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask
Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration
092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013
088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa
026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf
018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf
011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng
Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems
Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering
Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations
Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment
The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual
Part 1: Introduction, Problem Statement, Definitions and Examples
Part 2: Why Use JAR&A, Required Knowledge and Experience, Cubic Business Model and Chart of Accounts and Taxonomy Software
Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References
Example General Ledger Manual
Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous
The RIGHT Approach
Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction
Standards for Custom Software Specification
What IS Software?
Critical Factors for I.T. Success
A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail
Case Studies examining Business Information System failures
The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle
The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict
Speaking and Training
Showcase of Conference Presentations
Most Viewed Presentations
Briefings and Seminars
Why your ERP/BIS is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results
The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success
Conferences and Public Presentations
Conferences 80 to 99 -- 2009 to Present
Conferences 60 to 79 -- 2005 to 2009
Conferences 40 to 59 -- 1996 to 2005
Conferences 20 to 39 -- 1994 to 1996
Conferences 01 to 19 -- 1989 to 1994
On-Line Seminars (Webinars)
Webinar on Preparing and Presenting Webinars
Contacting James A Robertson and Associates Limited