Remember when corporate strategy moved at a measured pace? Companies took an almost leisurely amount of time (by today’s standards) to survey their markets and track consumer behaviors, evaluate technologies and study a number of hypotheses about where industry trends might lead and how they could be exploited. But as I wrote last week, business today moves too quickly to sustain a process where plans require years to be created, critiqued, revised, reviewed and then executed.
Today, corporate strategies must be developed in something that approaches real time. You have to quickly synthesize information on everything from consumer trends to market regulation and advances in basic technology. In some cases, the key to your future may lie on the periphery of your current business. Not very long ago, for example, Apple’s product line focused on desktop computers. Now it sells more mobile devices than anything else. Movie studios once looked on the Internet as a marketing channel. Today, it’s become a notable avenue for product delivery thanks to companies like Netflix and Hulu.
In both of these cases, change came quickly. That’s the norm today. In nearly every industry, technology is relentlessly expanding options for design, production, marketing and distribution. It’s also implanting an extraordinary number of moving parts into the business equation. Market dynamics and customer expectations are influenced by a news cycle that moves at light speed. Social media creates and crushes trends in a matter of hours. To succeed, companies must be ever on the alert for opportunities to strengthen their business through new products, new services or new processes.
‘To succeed today, companies must be ever on the alert for opportunities to strengthen their business through new products, new services or new processes.’
This presents a fundamental challenge: Businesses have to move fast, but they need a road map to know where they’re going. To provide that map as rapidly as possible, corporate strategists have to do more than keep up with developments – they have to anticipate them.
Technology and analytics help. Together, they allow you to explore various scenarios in real time, offering glimpses into market and industry dynamics that might otherwise be missed. At the same time, they provide the ability to model more approaches than would otherwise be possible. The result is a review of your company’s options that’s both broad and deep.
Of course, this adds enormous pressure to the corporate strategist’s role. Not only do you have to keep abreast of a more dynamic business world, you must be ready to formulate plans quickly, to determine how your company’s moves will be greeted in the marketplace, how they’ll impact operations, and whether the organization has the resources necessary to follow through on its plans. In short, the stakes of corporate strategy are higher than they’ve ever been before. Not only do you have to absorb more information and move on it more quickly, you have to bear the added risks and expense that go along with speed.
Fortunately, the same technology and data that are driving the complexity of business dynamics can be applied to developing your company’s strategy. For example, predictive analytics can forecast how consumers might react to new product features or new retail locations. Prototyping tools have streamlined the process of customer testing for everything from mobile apps to electronics components.
‘An expanding pool of specialized talent can help you understand and act on dynamics that are removed from your company’s core business.’
At the same time, an expanding pool of specialized talent is available to help corporate strategy teams understand and act on dynamics that are removed from their company’s core business. These independent experts bring to bear years of experience to ensure that a strategic plan’s assumptions match the realities of the current market and aren’t hampered by a reliance on internally focused assumptions. Engaged on-demand, they provide their expertise when it’s needed, without adding long lead times or unnecessary expense.
In short, the nature of corporate strategy has changed. Like everything else in business, it has to move fast. Corporate strategists still require expertise in their company’s operations and culture, and deep knowledge of its industry. Meanwhile, the organization itself needs a clear vision of how it defines success and plans to achieve its growth. By employing the right mix of technology, data and talent on-demand, you can remain in position to lead the discussion about your company’s strategic plans.