11 September 2018

Understanding and building your Digital Strategy

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We all know that technology choice shouldn’t be driven solely by technology concerns but scarily, how often have you seen the reasons for technology as ‘...the Chief said so…’ or ‘… the boss saw it at a conference…’? What’s even worse is that every day, we watch as our social media timelines overflow with solutions looking for problems that seem to then pervade into the organisations that can least afford them. It is too easy to fall into that solution driven trap and think you are providing value to your business and helping solve their problems in this way. You’re not. At best, you are cherry-picking problems that fit your solution.

Across the organisational (government or private) spectrum, strategy itself is all too often misunderstood. So let’s start with moving towards a better understanding of strategy.

According to Ann Latham at Forbes.com …

The biggest problem with the way organisations think about strategy is they confuse strategy with plans. They aren’t the same thing. Strategic planning is an oxymoron.  

Notwithstanding the ‘Twitter-ready’ nature of the commentary, strategy defines the core business of an organisation, the why, whereas a plan will set out how those ideals are achieved. Strategy is the reason for being, an organisation’s raison d'être, and it should be the reason behind every decision made throughout the organisation on a daily basis. Having said that, many executives typically spend a day a year in a Strategy workshop paying scant attention to strategy and deep diving into operational questions.

Companies define strategy in different ways, depending on their place in their industry and the nature of their industry. Often boards go wrong simply because they have not defined the right measures of competition or the right challenges on which to focus. 

It is important to understand that strategy is a moving feast. It is not a foundation stone to stare at forever. Never forget too, that sticking with the wrong strategy can end with a tombstone for the business.

Enter the ‘solution provider’ hawking solutions to problems which haven’t been very well understood or articulated. Too often this ‘solution provider’ is internal to the organisation and many technologies including cloud have seen reduced uptake in organisations because of this blind solution orientated approach.

Technology teams need to understand the business problem in context to be able to provide a proper and appropriate solution. Every business decision should be made using the Strategy as a guiding light and there is no reason to divorce technology decisions from this principle. This is a critical piece of the puzzle and we should be ensuring that every decision can be mapped back to the strategy.

With reference to the strategy, work through every business problem in context. Throughout the whole journey during the decision making process we should be asking how is this solution simplifying, connecting and informing our people better? A clear definition of the problem is always a good start. Spending time on ‘requirements’ is always a good investment. Define the problem and really understand it in the business context. Is there a strategic or business imperative that necessitates a technology solution to the problem? It might be more effective to change a process than deploy new technology. How does your Digital Strategy map back to the organisational strategy? If you decide that Cloud is the solution, why is cloud the solution and in what form will that cloud solution take? If AI is the decision, how will the time and investment spent modelling and testing an AI deployment further the digital or organisational strategy?

This might all seem like pretty basic stuff but most organisations get it wrong. The days of technology teams working in isolation from the business and its strategy are long gone. For everyone in the organisation, time spent understanding the decision making process, the decision making capabilities of yourself and your stakeholders plus what that means to the strategy for your department or enterprise is always time well spent.

Written by:



Rowan Dollar,
Chief Information Officer – Information and Technology
Department of Primary Industry and Resources, NT

Hear from Rowan at the upcoming Digital Government WA Summit this December.

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