Good or Bad Strategy?
I am currently reading ‘Good Strategy, Bad Strategy‘ which I urge any budding strategist out there to consume. The author talks to 4 key traits of bad strategy the first of which is ‘fluff‘; Interestingly, one of the key business disciplines cited for causing ‘unnecessary fluff’ is consulting!
To be honest, whilst many may agree in part, I believe as much fluff is caused by poor business definition of strategic intent and outcome, a failure to diagnose the true business problem rather than the symptoms and then, to clearly articulate a vision and plan of execution which is easily understood across the organisation.
Does your business feel fluffy?
The author cites the following example of ‘fluff’:
“..an elastic execution environment of resources involving multiple stakeholders and providing a metered service at multiple granularities for a specified level of quality of service.”
This is actually referring to cloud computing which simply put, is ‘a flexible and managed IT infrastructure service for all’. My absolute favourite is a quote from a major banks internal strategy document which states,
“Our fundamental strategy is one of customer-centric intermediation”.
“Intermediation” means that the bank accepts deposits from one entity and then lends that money to another. “Customer-centric” could mean a variety of things depending upon the bank’s customer service differentiation which the author deems on further analysis to be unclear, concluding:
“Our fundamental strategy is being a bank.”
This may seem funny but actually, it provides participants involved in IT Strategy (or any Strategy for that matter) with fundamental articulation challenges from the outset of any business case. If the ethos of an organisations’ business strategy can be this unclear within its own boundaries and context, how can it possibly be clear to its customers, partners and suppliers in their ongoing interactions?
Furthermore, how can your information strategy be relevant and applicable when the business strategy is anything but?
Coherent Execution rather than Aspirational Goals
So, one could conclude that strategy is really:
- Diagnosis of the business problem using careful and thorough analysis.
- Consideration of “what is really going on here?” and “why we should care?”
- Establishment of a common vision to galvanise alignment and adoption
- Development of a plan of coherent action with tangible ongoing outcomes and benefits
It should not start with an aspirational goals shrouded in fluffy statements of intent, nor with a statement of symptoms rather than direct consideration of the root causes and, their impacts on the current business model.
Information Strategy is often seen as ‘Blue-sky thinking’
All too often, Information Strategy is seen as a series of goals that are aspirational and cultural in nature without direct consideration for their implications on business operations, on customer interactions, on regulatory compliance and on product and market innovation. All this, in a competitive marketplace where effective operational intelligence and efficient customer experience can mean success or abject failure.
Determining operational and market risk requires Information Strategy; Understanding your capital adequacy requires Information Strategy; Segmenting you customer base by revenue and product mix requires Information Strategy; Understanding new target markets and ability to release new product offerings requires Information Strategy; Insight into brand recognition and sentiment via web and mobile challenges requires Information Strategy.
A modern Financial Services institution has to deal with regulatory compliance (i.e. FATCA, Basel III, Solvency II), complaints, liquidity and cash flow, customer churn, risk prediction and mitigation and ongoing market and competitor analysis; All these challenges require an effective Information Strategy and this is one reason behind the emergence of a Chief Data Officer (CDO) in larger corporates.
So often we ‘talk big’ but ‘act small’ when it comes to Information
Consequently, organisations will often ‘talk big‘ in terms of information as a strategic asset but ‘act small’ in terms of the organisational alignments of people, process, projects and technology necessary to assure this outcome. It is simply not engrained in the fabric of their culture nor deemed as a priority when the proverbial ‘push comes to shove’.
An IT led bottom-up approach to Information may well commence with substantial investments in an Information management platform from an IT-focused (cost reduction) perspective yet, this is often driven in direct isolation to the evolving business strategy, pain points, performance drivers and change programme outcomes.
In essence, Information Strategy is rarely directly linked to business benefits in terms of cost reduction, revenue generation and corporate risk mitigation when it should be integral. Additionally, it rarely considers what the future state could ‘feel like’ to the experience of the employee, customer and other core third-parties.
Consider the COO and CFO first, then drive the CIO to catalyse momentum
Information re-use to the CIO is common sense.
It’s the reduction of IT landscape complexity, the removal of redundant databases, interfaces and servers, the optimisation and simplification of the application landscape and, despite this period of economic austerity, also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the value of IT in terms of business agility.
Information re-use to the other CxO’s is supported in principle but grounded in mystery.
The CFO, COO, CRO and CMO may support the gesture but what does this really mean to their pain points and priorities? The core funding decisions usually rest with this audience and also, the fundamental business changes (and corresponding benefits) to achieve ‘information-centricity’ are engrained within their daily operations.
You say neither and I say neither
Let’s consider some classic Information Strategy fluff:
- Information should be managed as a corporate asset
- We need a single view of the truth in our business
- We require simple, detailed and adhoc access to our corporate information faster
- Data Governance, security and Data Quality are core priorities
- Our strategy is to drive ‘Information Quick-wins’
In the coming weeks I will look at how to address each of the above aspirations individually in the context of business strategy and information management delivery.
Don’t get me started on quick-wins! The reality is that every one of those aspirations is extremely complex in terms of the diagnosis, vision, plan and benefits case. Each spans numerous business areas and for that matter, command and control boundaries.
In consequence, Information Strategy often becomes the purview of the few (usually at Group Level) rather than the many (where most of the challenges and corresponding benefits arise). We can see the challenges and benefits from a group perspective but we are unable to implement a coherent plan operationally.
Further detailed analysis and consideration of the above points will raise questions, few will want to answer. It is perhaps preferable to stand behind fluffy rhetoric and support the strategy aspirationally, than it is to understand the challenge and, determine a collaborative course of action to improve information assets corporately.
Surely, this would be simply be getting in the way of running our real business?
Rebuff the fluff
Poor information strategy = Higher Operating Costs (OPEX)
This is manifested through the employee experience as process inefficiencies and consequently, substantial manual re-mediation effort across business lines (not simply the IT function).
Poor information strategy = Less Effective Capital Expenditure (CAPEX)
This occurs due to lack of prior attention of existing capability re-use and augmentation across ongoing change projects. This invariably leads to implementation of duplicitous (or heavily overlapping) processes, capabilities and technology rather than continuously leveraging prior investments.
Poor information strategy = Poor Customer Experience
This can materially impact the customer experience through increasing disjointed interactions in both the servicing and marketing aspects of customer engagement.
Poor information strategy = Constrainted Business Agility
Finally, poor information strategy leads to brittle data architecture which in turn becomes a fundamental constraint on our ‘business agility’ and, our ability to react quickly to changing consumer demand; Merger and Acquisition or Divestiture Programme anybody?
So how do I kick-start my information strategy then?
In subsequent blogs, I will consider the immediate steps you should take to drive and maintain an information strategy agenda in your organisation.