Modern Network Architecture

Nov 5 2011   3:40PM GMT

IT strategic planning

James Murray James Murray Profile: James Murray

Ok so the first thing to understand about strategy is that strategy is not the same thing as tactics.  Technology is very tactical within the business organization.  Because this is not always understood by the management teams in the organization, often it’s often hard for technical people to understand that there is a difference.  The one thing technologists are very good at is execution. 

Execution is all about tactics.  This change for the technical expert from tactical thinking to strategic thinking is often a paradigm shift.  In this article we want to discuss the modern network architect’s understanding between the differences of tactical and strategic thinking.

Imagine you are a lumberjack 100 years ago.  You carry a big double headed ax and you walk from tree to tree chopping down trees.  For you trees have been chopped down the same way since the first caveman created the first stone ax.  You know that the more hours cutting down trees the more money the company makes. 

The strategy for the company is to produce raw lumber for the various industries that turn raw wood into finished products.

The tactic is to chop down trees with an ax,

The managers of the company think about the end to end process of harvesting and transporting trees to the market place.  The lumberjack is focused on the most efficient way to use his/her ax to harvest trees. 

Then one day someone invented the chainsaw.  By utilizing the chain saw instead of an ax the lumberjack was able to chop down more trees.  Changing from Axes to Chain saws was a tactical change for the lumberjack and the organization.  Despite the effect on profitability of the company, the overall company strategy did not change at all.

Because management is primarily strategic, management didn’t really need to change much.  On the other hand the lumberjacks needed to go through a change in thinking about what they cut down trees.  Some lumberjacks might object to the tactical change.  After all… trees have been cut down the same way for 1000’s of years.  Why then is there a need to change tactics? 

Many industries run into problem when they begin thinking that their tactics are their strategy are the same.  A good example is newspapers.  We all think of the newspaper business and we think about huge printing presses that print information on paper.   We all know that the newspaper industry’s strategy is to sell this paper.  What makes the paper valuable is the information, but the strategy is to sell papers.

Thinking about this idea I can’t help wonder what the lumber jacks would say who didn’t want to switch to chainsaws?  Are trees better if they are chopped down with axes versus a chainsaw?  By the same token is the information in a newspaper any different when read on a piece of paper or on a computer screen?  The reality is that lumberjacks that refuse to chop down trees with chainsaws won’t be able to compete with competitors.  Nor will newspaper publishers be competitive if they insist on using the same tactic for distributing information.   In the case of newspapers the strategy has become synonymous with the tactic. 

When the organizations strategy becomes synonymous with the tactic the organization will fail when the tactic becomes obsolete. 

This is important to understand because technicians and system administrators are primarily tactical roles.  The system architect is the bridge between business strategy and technology tactics for the organization.  The architect must build tactical solutions that support but don’t replace the strategy and vision of the company.  This is not always easy.  Many managerial teams really don’t understand the role of IT in relationship to the business.  As a result many technical people in the organization also don’t understand their own relationship with the organization.  Management’s job is to give a vision and develop the strategy for the organization including the technology departments.

The better the system architect understands the role of management and IT the less likely the organization will lose the strategic direction of the organization to the tactical requirements of the organization.

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