Modern Network Architecture

Feb 18 2012   5:07PM GMT

Tactical or was it strategic?

James Murray James Murray Profile: James Murray

There is a lot of confusion over the idea of Strategy and tactics.  A lot of people use the term strategic when they are really talking about tactics.  If you don’t know the difference you might end up going down a dead end technical path.  One of the most important things to understand when designing modern network architecture is the difference between a technical strategy and a technical tactic.

Ok… actually it’s not that difficult.  Technology is all tactical.  When someone discusses a technical strategy they are probably talking about technical tactics.  How can you tell the difference?  One way is to look at the timing.  Are you looking at solving a problem today it’s probably tactical.  If you are looking at the 10,000 foot level or lower vs the 60,000 foot look or higher… you are looking at a tactical solution.  Nuts and bolt solutions are tactical.  The lowest tactical variable is 1’s and 0’s.  If you are looking at a problem tactically.  Because IT is all about 1’s and 0’s technology is all about tactics. 

Don’t get me wrong tactics is important.  Sales, operations, customer management are all tactical departments.  In fact the only truly strategic role holder in the organization is C-Level manager.  Often we get upset with the CEO, because he/she doesn’t seem to focus on our problems.  This isn’t because they don’t care.  It’s because they are thinking tactically, not strategically.  Since we are thinking tactically, we assume that the CEO is also thinking tactically as well.  At the same time, the CEO is not relating because they are thinking strategically and often have a difficult time thinking tactically. 

Strategically Leveraging technology requires a tactical understanding of the technology.  Yet the jump from thinking strategically to thinking tactically (and vice versa) is difficult.  In fact only a small percentage of people can think both strategically and tactically about a problem.  Yet the order of operations when thinking business is that the strategy must be in place before the tactics are implemented.

There’s a joke about a group of programmers sitting in a room.  The phone rings and the head programmer picks up the phone.  After the call, the head programmer says, 

“That was the boss, we need to make a code change.  You guys start coding, I’ll go up and find out what the manager wants.” 

It’s funny, but how often do we start jumping into the solution before we even know the problem?  Strategy defines the scope of the problem as well as the goals and milestones.  Once we know what management wants, the end solution is pretty simple.  That’s the difference between strategy and tactics.

Imaging a company that specializes in chopping down trees with axes.  They may have the best ax men in the industry.  It won’t matter when their competition has a chain saw.  The chainsaw can cut down more trees than four or five of the best axe men.  If the strategy is to cut down trees, changing tactics from axes to chain saws is pretty simple.  If the strategy is chopping down trees with axes, the axe men will never win a bid against the  chain saw company.

We see this problem every day.  Look at the newspaper industry.  Their strategy is to print data on paper.  So when digital print came along they couldn’t compete.  Changing strategy is incomprehensible.  How to you charge for the data if it’s not printed on paper?  Instead of using the tactic of printing the data on paper, the newspaper industry needs to understand new ways of monetizing data that does not require paper.  The problem is not finding customer for information.  Those customers are everywhere.  The problem is find customer who will buy information on paper.  Today that is more and more difficult and is the reason why newspapers are failing across the country.  It turns out the problem isn’t with the newspaper.  The problem is that the industry is confusing a tactic with a strategy.  As and IT Consultant and modern network architecture architect needs to understand the different between strategy and tactics or the business and possibly and industry won’t survive.

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