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Changing my Tune: On Strategy

by Andrew White  |  July 28, 2020  |  Comments Off on Changing my Tune: On Strategy

Even before the COVID-19 Reset our advice concerning development of data and analytics strategy was focused on an outcome-based approach. Three years ago, we suggested that D&A strategy had been seen through three lenses:

  1. As a service (Business user: “Please get me this report by Thursday.”)
  2. More consultative (D&A leader: “Hey, three departments are asking for the same kind of data. Let’s talk and pool our ideas and get something better.”)
  3. More as a leader (Chief data officer: “This is how our digital strategy hinges on these kinds of customer decisions using this data.”)

The first case is very much the standard operating practice n the 1970-80s. In the 1990s many forms toyed with, then shifted to, the second. Today the third lens is where a growing number of firms are headed. The third lens puts D&A at the center of business, and digital business specifically.

But another dimension kicked in: the way in which strategy evolved. Much has been written about how strategy development has changed. In those 1970s and 1980s management executives would go to school to learn a detailed methodical practice for strategy development. I myself rode the final wave of this practice working at an engineering firm in the 1980s. The business strategy guide was 300-page A6 sized color handbook!

Modern strategy has been, for the most part, focused on things like:

  • Incrementalism (think big but act small)
  • Outcome over architecture (add value, not designs)
  • Decision autonomy and distribution over control and centralization
  • Scenario-based (don’t look for a single effective strategy; think of options and decide as late as you can)

Things have improved a lot. But one huge elephant remains in the room and it comes up in a small number of client interactions. The elephant is this: if we accept that incrementalism and outcome-based execution is good, how do I consider any future state business design? Scenarios help, but as I said in just such an inquiry last week, “You will, in effect, accidentally stumble into your future state architecture.”

This phrase intrigued the client. Most clients make a note of it, smile, and move on. But one in 10 push back: but what if the really big decisions that need to be considered include such as retiring a burning platform or the opportunity of shifting to the cloud or a divestiture? How can you plan for these given the best practice of incrementalism, scenarios and outcome-based execution?

I asked our D&A experts the same question and I was unseated at the numerous and different responses I received. So, I took our collected responses and synthesized the advice. It now looks like the following.

  • Gone are the days of the big, detailed, ~200-page strategy glossy. No one ever read it anyway
  • Gone too are the army of architects that would labor for months over said decisions, options, plans and resource requirements
  • “In” are short term (yes incrementalism) outcome-driven initiatives. These put money in the bank and gain the D&A team credibility
  • “In” also is a new strategy and operating model. Such templates provide a consistent approach that drives synergy and provides a means to connect all the other best- and next-practices

Here is the revised new addition;

  • Take those architects and consultants that used to focus on perfect plans and ~200-page glossies, and get them to use scenario planning, design thinking and/or zero-based design to:
    • Identify a conceptual future state design of business and D&A capability
    • Work back from there to identify step-wise formation of that vision, looking for the biggest decisions that trigger the shift from the old to the new. Try different paths backwards (hence the scenario planning) to look for efficient connections to the current

These biggest of decisions might be about technology, organization, skills, leadership, culture, or something else. But they will be big, and they will act as hurdles that prevent the shift from the current to the new.

You can have our cake and eat it too. You can generate business value today and ongoing. You can standardize and wash your practices with a modern business drive D&A strategy and operating model. And you can put money and credibility in the bank. And now our forward-thinking architects identify for you, weeks and months in advance, the decisions and potential forks in the road you need to consider as you proceed. By the time you get to the big choices, you might have enough money in the bank and credit to make others see the sense, and value, in the decisions you all need to make.

And you get a nice big wall chart of your future state architecture too. Everyone needs a vision. Just keep the eraser handy.

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Category: data-and-analytics-strategy  strategic-planning  strategy  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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