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Does strategy always trump technology?

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As Joe Shepley wonders in this interesting post, Strategy Trumps Technology Every Time, could you have an enterprise content management strategy without ECM technology.  So do you think strategy trumps technology every time?

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  • Strategy should come first, then business, then technology - as the article which promopted the questions suggests.

    The danger with Cloud Computing is that it is very quick and easy to get a 'small pilot' going using a technology under the radar neither supported or sanctioned by IT - something I have called the Stealth Cloud.

    The pilot goes viral spawning other projects and suddenly tactical becomes strategy.

    It happens in ECM, BPM, CRM and many many other areas.

    When this happens the only solution is PASTA

  • Essentially, yes.

    I would not call it a strategy, I would call it a "culture". A culture is a set of shared values and behaviors. A culture will define the strategy that one might employ in a particular situation, but the term strategy strongly connotes implicit knowledge and decision, but this needs to move to tacit knowledge and action.

    When I think about the culture change that has to happen, I often compare this with "anti-littering" campaigns. If I think only about the short term cost/benefit of me personally, it is hard to justify the additional effort of using the trash bin. But we know that in the aggregate that a piece of litter has a small negative effect on everyone else. Somehow a culture has to learn to convince everyone to take the small effort to throw things in the bin, so that everyone else benefits. The technology is simply trash bins, but the presence of the trash bins without the culture to use them would be ineffective.

    No project will ever have the "goal" to not litter. No person will make "not littering" a professional goal. Instead, this behavior needs to be part of the shared goals that we all buy into simply to be part of something: it has to be part of the culture.

    Currently the easiest thing to do to communicate with others is to send an email.

    See: Personal Choices Behind Email Flood

    And: Page First, Then E-Mail, Please

    It will take a change of culture to get people to the point where they find using content management natural. Using ECM is never a "goal" of any project, nor will it benefit a single project in isolation. Instead, using a content repository correctly will benefit everyone else in the organization over time.

    It is the same with content management. Storing my document in a shared repository has little benefit for me (after all, I already have the document) and mainly benefits everyone except me. The most important thing is a culture change to get people to use it. Once you have the culture to share, you find that there are many way to share the documents, and the particular technology you use is close to irrelevant.

    So yes, culture trumps technology every time.


  • Solutions are strategic, technology is tactical.

    I wish I had more time to expound on this one today but essentially technology is a tactical means to implementation a solution as part of the execution on a strategy designed to address a business need/problem.

  • "Hey, let's get the committee together to strategize how far down the list my priorities come. Ah, the strategy committee next convenes in August. Add my name to the list. Fabulous!" I think people grow to love tactical solutions for this reason.

    In other words, 'strategy' can sometimes be an excuse for doing nothing, and can certainly lead to a bottleneck in getting positive business solutions in place.

    Playing devil's advocate I look at it this way: IT has limited resources, and the business needs to get stuff done. Why should we stand in the way?

    Sometimes a quick technology fix can be just what is needed to get the business out of a bind. Despite Ian's concerns that the cloud can help quick-fixes become viral, I see this as a good thing. Cloud solutions become viral because they don't need IT support and sidestep common organizational bottlenecks. In other words, the business leaders can now say, "We just outsourced a bunch of responsibility that nobody in-house wanted to take and see great business benefits. Fire me for that!".

    ECM has commonly failed organizations because it is just too hard to get anybody to invest to put your crappy little business problem under the umbrella of the corporate repository. So you're stuck with the P: drive. BPM commonly fails organizations because the promise of every business analyst designing and implementing a solution on your enterprise BPM platform is just not feasible - so wait for the corporate center of excellence to get up and running and all will be fine. CRM works because you can add a few users to Salesforce and everybody is happy. But don't try and get anybody to extend it to capture the client information you actually need.

    I know that there are many situations where we must take care with tactical technology decisions, but assuming we don't break corporate policies, avoid security issues, and get an ROI right now, what's the big deal?


  • One can make a strategy but only action changes the future. (Sun Tzu).

    Without the ability to act any strategy is utterly useless. If you need technology to act then it becomes the strategic enabler. Yes, the strategy may contain the need for the technology but then you still need to get adoption and as Keith suggest maybe a cultural shift in place which is truly an intangible. You can neither measure nor intentionally create culture. One can however create the opportunity, set an example and motivate.

    HENCE: For culture to develop you need the enablers in place. You won't get people to throw trash into non-existent cans or pick up after their dogs without poop-bag dispensers. You won't develop a social networking or adaptive process culture without the tools in place. For the technology to be adopted it has to be desirable or ideally COOL. Executive sponsorship (implying enforcement) is thus NOT the biggest success factor for any project, but monitoring adoption and rejection and to learn from both.

    A good strategy says: I need technology to empower and enable poeple to develop culture. Strategy that is not embodied in technology these days causes me nothing than a big yawn and a feeling of pity.

  • The question isn't which one trumps but how should they be aligned in order to provide value to the customer.

    Strategy and technology must be aligned along with process in order to have a chance of providing value to the customer. An organization needs a well-defined strategy but without "some" use of technology, rarely can an organization achieve it's strategic objectives. Strategic objectives influence the types of technology or direction of technology decisions and those same technology decisions will influence an organizations strategic objectives.

    For example, an organization wishes to respond more quickly to customer requests in order to increase profits and market share. One method of accomplishing this could be through the use of better technology. However, if that technology is too expensive then the strategy of profit is sacrificed. In addition, both are relatively useless without the support of well designed processes and those processes aren't helpful unless the "people" follow them. We need balance. History is there to tell us not to make the same mistakes over and over and yet it seems we are doomed to do just that. Every time something new comes a long or a different perspective is introduced, we lose the concept of stepping back for just a moment and asking, "how does this or should this fit into our current environment?"

    Technology isn't necessary to empower and enable people to develop culture. Culture is the foundation on which organizations build success. It's the culture of an organization that quite often determines the kinds of technology that best enable an organizations success.

    The culture to be involved in collaboration or using various social networking tools or methods must exist first or we're back to the dilemma of forcing technology on people and they respond with a multitude of non-value added work arounds.

    I've said for years that the "People are the Process". That is to say there is nothing more important in an organization than the people. Even "people" will influence strategy. The current trend toward social networking and all the other similar concepts support this. Technology is great. Process is great. But it's only through the people that any of this can add value to our customers.

    I suggest we give up trumps in favor of "go fishing". Find the right matches and put them together.


    • Kathy, so you are saying that the social media phenomenon would have happened without the technology of Internet and Web2.0 capabilities in place? The culture to do so was not in place before but the opportunity existed.

      We are totally aligned on 'people are the process' but with the usual BPM technology the process would have to be designed and basically remove the people as the key element.

      This is why technology has to focus on empowering people and not on cost cutting. At the same time you can't be efficient or competitve today without technology. Therefore a strategy or culture focus without it won't lead anywhere. Strategy and technology must not only be aligned but strategy must be defined around technology these days because if you don't, your competition certainly will.

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    Others here emphasized how Strategy comes before Technology but notice how in any "Strategy Meeting", the discussion quickly devolves into technology and even worse, a foodfight between two technology camps!! Never happens, right?!!

    Jumping too quickly from a strategy to a technology always leads you down paths you never would have guessed you took in the first place! That's what very rightly points out a couple of posts above with the risks in doing a "quick prototype" with cloud based services. With One month free trial offers everywhere, this is a real risk!

  • Strategy always over technology [or tools]? My rational mind tells me that it is but I'm not particularly sure especially when the most you see of strategy revolves around "over-thinking, more than doing".

    There's a reason why Nike's 'Just Do It' strikes a chord even if it has resulted not a few face palms. But strategy couldn't correct a dysfunctional team even if it hires a bunch of consultants. Not unless you get to the root which is most often takes you down to 'culture'.

    But then again, we don't get to hear a lot of success stories that sings about the praises of pragmatism or taking advantage of a suddenly available tools. Unless, we dig in to those filed under luck.

  • Strategy should definitely triumph technology. Technology should be used in a way that boosts (or at least is compatible with) the strategy. But, new technology may lead to strategic changes. Monitoring new technologies and other trends with the aim of updating and revalidating strategies (or how strategies should be interpreted) should be a continous process.

  • Strategy is pointless if you have no way of implementing it, so if you rely on technology then you have to make sure that any stragey you have includes the right technologies....

    With that said, great technology will have a positive impact on your strategy.

    With this in mind and in todays world where technology is used to implement strategy, we have to look at strategy and technology as equal partners, though strategy should trump technology when at logger heads...

  • Trying to force a difference between Strategy and Technology is more waterfall-esque than Agile. I think the two feed upon each other - strategy driving technology and technical feasibility influencing strategy.

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