Strategy, Goals, and Bringing IT into the Fold

Tom Schoen, CEO, BTM Global

As economic forecasts continue to predict a modest slow-down, many retailers will take advantage of this quieter time to assess their operations and look for opportunities for efficiency.

There’s never a shortage of improvements to be made, and there are nearly an equal number of choices for the technology stacks and applications to enable those improvements. What’s often missing during this planning time, however, is the important connection between strategy and the subsequent technology decisions.

People interchange “strategy” with “goals” or “tactics” all the time, so here’s a quick primer: Your strategy is where you need to go. The goals are the steps you need to take that will move you forward in your strategic plan. The tactics are the tools or approaches that help you take those steps.

For example, if your strategy is to grow into a new segment of the market, what changes do you need to make to your technology systems in order to get there? What are the immediate goals you to need accomplish in the next “x” number of months or before a certain deadline, like a holiday? What tactics or tools do you need to accomplish those goals?

Don’t make IT an afterthought
From a strategy perspective, IT has typically been an afterthought. Perhaps the CIO is invited to a few meetings, but that’s about it. Conversely, IT may not be advocating for themselves to be at the table. I’ve seen this happen regardless of the company’s size or industry, and I’ve walked into more than one meeting where it’s instantly obvious that the business side and IT side don’t see eye-to-eye. That sort of siloing of responsibilities and lack of trust hurts the efficiency and effectiveness of reaching your goals.

Traditionally, IT has been thought of as the network, the servers or the team that runs the batch programs. It’s “the network guy” or the person in the data center. But that’s all changed. IT is more than a cost center, as it may now include application administration and developers. These are really important people to have at the table when you’re setting strategy. For example, if you’re mixing cloud and on-premise systems, that’s a complicated endeavor; the business people in the room usually don’t have the expertise to fully grasp the implications and factors associated with those decisions, so having IT in there is critical for determining a realistic path forward on the strategic plan.

In fact, IT is the only way to execute a strategy; the team helps the business side think through and prioritize the goals on the way to executing your strategy. In short, IT helps you understand whether something’s possible or not.

IT leaders also need to be thinking in terms of strategy, not simply execution. It the business side is hesitant about an initiative because it’s too costly or too much of a hassle, that’s when IT needs to step up and tie the effort to the overall strategy of the organization. How does it help the company achieve a goal? Strategy and goal setting have to be done collaboratively by both sides.

Where the innovation happens
That collaboration between business and IT is where the innovation happens; by working out your goals and solutions together, you can propel yourself faster along your strategic plan and stay relevant.

If you’re stuck, working with a system integrator (SI) – even before your technology systems and apps are chosen – can help your team prioritize goals. An SI can also help you think through data conversion plans and prioritize integrations. If you’re looking to do something more transformational, your SI should know the ins and outs of your tech options and be able to advise you on making bolder moves. But wherever you are in the process, bringing together the business and IT team early and often will ensure your strategy is smart, your goals are achievable and your tactics are sound.