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Grids: The Missing Link in Web Services (PDF)
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Business Processes - Harnessing the Value of Web Services Technology (PDF)
Loosely Coupled Business Processes: The Secret to Successful Collaboration
The perspective on IT and strategic advantage outlined in the letter JSB and I wrote to HBR (see previous blog: "IT Does Matter" ) is shaped in part by a broader view of strategy that I have developed over the past several years. When I work with senior executives, they express a real conflict: they know strategy is important (strategy, like IT, does matter) but they have a growing sense that traditional approaches to strategy are simply not up to the challenge of coping with increasingly uncertain business environments. What to do?
My first piece of advice: throw out two basic tenets of business strategy. First, reject the notion that strategy is sequential – that detailed strategic blueprints need to be laid out before a company can proceed with operational implementation. Secondly, abandon the traditional strategy view that the relevant time frame for strategic planning is a five-year horizon.
My second piece of advice: implement a FAST approach to strategy. FAST in this case is an acronym for Focus, Accelerate, Strengthen and Tie it all together. This approach urges executives to move along parallel paths, operating on two very different time horizons: one horizon takes a five to ten year view of the business and the second horizon zooms in to a much more tactical six to twelve month view of the business. The one to five year horizon that is so loved by traditional business strategists actually receives very little attention in the FAST approach.
Focus is the key activity on the five to ten year horizon. This requires senior management to develop a common view on two key questions for their business. Five to ten years from now, what will the markets that we participate in look like? Then, what kind of business we will need to have in order to continue to create value in these markets? Unlike strategic approaches of the past, Focus does not require management to develop a detailed view of the future, but it does require management to develop a clear, high level view specific enough to help the company make important near-term choices.
To illustrate the high level nature of the view of the future, look at Microsoft. Back in the late 1970’s Bill Gates defined a Focus for Microsoft that could be summed up in two sentences. First, computing power is inexorably moving from centralized mainframes to desktop computers. Second, to be successful in the future, a computer company will need to "own" the desktop. Simple and succinct, yet specific enough that it helped Microsoft to answer the unexpected call it got from IBM to help IBM develop an operating system for a new desktop computer it was developing, rather than the twenty other calls it undoubtedly received on that same day. This Focus helped to guide the company for two decades. It only began to need retooling in the late 1990’s as the advent of the Internet set into motion fundamentally new forces.
On the six to twelve month horizon, Accelerate and Strengthen are the key requirements. By Accelerate, I mean identifying a few key operating initiatives that have the potential to significantly accelerate the movement of the company towards the long-term Focus. Once these initiatives are identified and agreed upon by senior management, the question is what can be done to help these initiatives increase their impact over the next six to twelve months? Management needs to set aggressive and measurable operating performance objectives for these initiatives over the next six to twelve months.
On the same time horizon, Strengthen also comes into play. Here, management needs to ask, what are the major organizational obstacles that are preventing us from moving even faster to achieve our operational objectives? Then the question becomes, what can be done over the next six to twelve months to "de-bottleneck" the organization and strengthen our organizational capabilities so that we can move even faster in the next six to twelve month cycle?
Tie it all together integrates these three streams of activities. The key to success with the FAST strategy is to frequently iterate back and forth across these two time horizons and refine efforts on all streams based on the results of efforts to date. The near-term operating initiatives will provide management with much more information regarding both the market place and the capabilities of the company. This should help to refine the longer-term Focus view. In turn, this refined Focus view will be helpful in selecting and shaping the next wave of near-term operating and organizational initiatives. Senior management must actively monitor progress on all three streams and play an active role in shaping initiatives and setting objectives.
The FAST strategy approach respects the need for both near-term performance and longer-term direction, learning and adaptation. It favors incrementalism but recognizes that, without direction, incrementalism will inevitably sub-optimize relative to longer-term opportunities. Properly focused, incrementalism provides significant advantages relative to more tempting "big bang" transformational initiatives:
Few companies today have adopted anything like a FAST strategy approach. You can use five questions to determine whether a company is pursuing this approach:
The FAST strategy approach provides a robust framework for incremental innovation. It offers a useful context for understanding how to create strategic advantage through sustained innovation in business practices enabled by IT capabilities. It also helps us to understand the deep business significance of the emergence of a much more flexible distributed service architecture. This new IT architecture will help businesses to accelerate their near-term operational initiatives even further. In doing so, it will provide a solid foundation for radical incrementalism.
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The Next Wave of Open Innovation
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- Creation Nets: Harnessing the Potential of Open Innovation (co-authored with John Seely Brown) April, 2006
- Connecting Globalization & Innovation: Some Contrarian Perspectives (Prepared for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland January 25 – 30, 2006; co-authored with John Seely Brown)
- "The Benefits of a Long Distance Relationship" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), August 9, 2005
- "Feed R&D - Or Farm It Out?" (HBR Case Study with Commentary co-authored with John Seely Brown), July 2005
- "Productive Friction: How Difficult Business Partnerships Can Accelerate Innovation" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), February 2005
- "From Push to Pull: The Next Frontier of Innovation" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), 2005, No.3
- "Innovation Blowback: Disruptive Management Practices from Asia" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), 2005, No.1