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  • Sam Errington

Why your Digital strategy is lonely and needs a friend

The word ‘strategy’ is often thought of as a grandiose thing. However a strategy is simply (as per the dictionary definition) a plan to reach a goal. Thanks to the proliferation of digital channels in modern times (phones, kiosks, web, watches etc), companies have realised the need for digital strategies to meet consumer demand. As a result we have seen the emergence of well-formed Digital strategies. This has been invaluable in explaining exactly what the desired customer experience should be to those charged with delivering them. However it still amazes me that many companies do not have a Technology strategy. This is the thing that actually makes the Digital strategy possible (and not just a hallucination). Ie the technology, people, and process that will be assembled in order to achieve the desired digital experience and broader business goals.​

A Technology strategy covers your entire technology environment (across the four architecture domains of business, information, application, and infrastructure). It defines what your building blocks are for future initiatives and also includes the people and processes required. For example, it might state that all technology will be deployed in the cloud to take advantage of the innovation there, and that you also therefor need to upskill staff in this area. Conversely it may state that solutions must be deployed on-premise to meet legislative or regulatory constraints. Or it could be a mixture of the two. The point is that there is no right or wrong answer here, it needs to be tailored to your organisation.​

As you can see in the iceberg illustration the technology piece of the puzzle is much larger than the digital channels - the bits people see and interact with. Ie most of your technology efforts and costs are spent below the water level. A good example is your Netflix app. A simple login with a recurring monthly fee, followed by simply selecting a programme to watch. User experience heaven (and the revenue to match)! However actually delivering this easy and faultless experience to customers is not so straight forward. Netflix spend hundreds of millions of dollars on their technology environment behind the scenes to make it happen. And have more staff than many small pacific islands have citizens.​

The point of a Technology strategy is to provide the direction and guardrails for people involved in implementing projects so that the broader business strategy is achieved over time. Having a Technology strategy that was created a few years back by some consulting crowd doesn’t count. It needs to be a living document that is continuously updated and realised through your organisation’s normal governance mechanisms (such as solution reviews and change management boards etc). A common mistake many businesses make is to have just a high level business strategy and then dive straight into project or programme plans. Because there is no bridge between these two things, usually the programme or project plans do not match the intent of the business strategy – they are tactical in nature, not strategic. For example a business or digital strategy will often talk about step changes but projects go on delivering using the same methods and the same technologies. Paraphrasing Einstein, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of madness. There’s no connection between the strategy and actual work being conducted. The result is non-delivery of strategy. If you had to pick two, you’d be better off to have a Digital strategy and a Technology strategy, and no project plans at all because teams can make the right decisions themselves if you give them the right context. And this decision empowerment is ultimately more rewarding for staff and creates better outcomes. As Peter Drucker famously said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.​

In summary, you need to get a Technology strategy to enable and power up your Digital strategy. Or extend your existing Digital strategy to cover the technology components. The best people to do this are Technology Strategists and/or Enterprise Architects because this is their (highly skilled) day job. They will understand your current technology environment (across all dimensions) and work out what changes need to be made in order to reach the goals as defined in your higher level strategies. And most importantly, they will communicate and help embed it. They will not have all the answers but will guide and facilitate between key stakeholders to ensure broad ownership and buy-in and maximise the chance of success. You now have an actionable plan that can feed into and underpin your portfolio of initiatives!​

Stay tuned for my next article on the typical outputs of a technology strategy (what it looks and feels like)…​