1. "Strategy" widely abused and seldom understood
I continue to encounter sub-optimal Integrated 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 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.
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 are 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
Michel Robert defines "strategic driving force" and asserts that every
organization has a single driving force that will seldom or never
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.
All 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
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 just about every systems implementation I
have seen, just about every management consulting intervention, focuses
on operational "me too" stuff and gets in the way of the essence and
therefore the competitiveness of the organization.
As mentioned above, an essential element of strategic essence is
differentiation -- that which enables the organization to compete and
thrive. Without differentiation we do not have customers.
When an organization cripples that which differentiates it, it loses
customers, when it enhances it, refines it, takes it to the next level,
customers flock through its doors.
The absence of understanding of these factors is what makes most
integrated business information system projects frustrating to
Understanding and applying strategic essence is the great opportunity
for any organization embarking on a business improvement project
today. It is also the opportunity for any organization whose
systems and operating procedures are slowing it down and getting in its
Introduce strategic essence thinking and methods into everything that
you do, refocus your efforts and your investment and you will be
surprised at what you can accomplish.
5. The essence is different
Fundamentally the strategic essence is different.
Strategic essence thinking is a total turnaround on traditional systems implementation thinking.
One of the things that floors me every time I come across it is why
otherwise intelligent executives select business information system
software on the basis of what their competitors are doing!
Exactly the same approach applies to appointing any firm of
management consultants for any form of business "improvement" focus on the
essence, lead from the front and do not abdicate to "IT" or anyone else.
An Integrated Business Information System implementation is probably
the most far reaching business improvement project you will ever embark
on. Done right it can add huge strategic value. Done wrong
it can put you out of business.
6. The essence should be comprehensively communicated
The strategic essence of your organization should be comprehensively
documented and communicated. Every member of staff, right down to
the person who cleans the corridors, should know the essence of the
organization and how it affects their role. In the early days you
might go so far as to put up posters, put a banner on the wall facing
the desk of ever executive and manager, talk about it constantly until
it is totally known and totally understood. Just doing that will
improve the competitiveness, effectiveness and profitability of your
organization. That is if profit is your motive, IF you are a "not
for profit" or a Government organization, the strategic essence is every
bit as important in delivering whatever service it is that you deliver.
7. The essence should be the point of departure for EVERY project
By now I hope that it is apparent to you that the strategic essence is
the point of departure for every business improvement project.
If you cannot clearly define how a business system procurement, or much
more mundane project will strengthen the essence of the business, do
not do it!
Remember Malcolm McDonald's massively important definition "if you do
the right things well your organization WILL thrive". The essence
IS the right things, operations is about doing the essence of the
business very well indeed.
Make your people more effective in terms of the strategic essence of the business and the REST will FOLLOW!
8. Enhancing the essence should be the focus of every project
Every step of the way, focus on the essence.
In every decision, ask yourself if you will be enhancing the essence.
Once you are focussed on the essence, sterile debates about what
aspects of the business should be "BPR'd" fall away. In fact, the
whole concept of "Business Process Re-engineering" will fall away.
Incidentally, how do you "re-engineer" something that was not
engineered in the first place? I am an engineer and I have to say
that I regard the whole concept of "Business Process Re-engineering" to
be an entirely inappropriate use of the word "engineering"!
The essence is not about process or workflow, it is about doing
the things that are central to the way the business works better and
better and better and, IF there is workflow involved, optimize the
workflow. Note that the way to optimize workflow is not to spend
thousands of Pounds / Dollars / Euros / ... on "as is" process mapping --
what a lovely way for consultants to make money and a total waste of
client money! "We are going to build a new bridge and demolish the
old bridge so we will document the way the old bridge works in minute
Focus on the essence!
9. One size fits all cannot work
By now I hope that you realise that choosing a business systems product
on the basis of what your competitors are doing is a big mistake.
Choosing a system just because it is the "best of breed" for your
industry is an even bigger mistake unless, of course, you are the
defining player in your industry in which case you are clearly not doing
the essence well.
The same applies to your choice of consultants and the type of business improvement projects you undertake.
Understand your essence and then go out and carefully head-hunt the
firm that aligns with your essence, the firm with the essential cultural
fit, the firm whose service promise aligns with your service promise,
the firm that specializes in optimizing the products or services that
constitute the essence of your business.
The above is a summary of a much more detailed article, please email me if you would like a copy of the full article.
I also have a video on strategic planning techniques, email me for the link.
I hope that I have challenged you to think differently about your organization and its systems.
I would welcome the opportunity to assist your organization to put any
and all of the principles discussed in this article into practice in
order to assist your organization to thrive.
I offer a one day intervention through to assist you to lift our the
essence of your organization, please email me should you require
information. I also offer a comprehensive strategic planning
service to engineering standards.
Dr James A Robertson, PrEng