Answering the Call for an E-strategy

Lucky you. You’ve been tasked to work up an e-strategy for discussion at your company’s management retreat. The members of the Executive Committee know that e-business is more about business than technology, but they’re basically bottom feeders on the Internet maturity curve. Beyond telling you not to recommend a dot-com spin-off, they haven’t a clue about how to develop an e-strategy. So guess what? You’re it. Here are a couple of pointers for surviving that happy task.


Strategy, no matter how exotic, is a map about how you get from A to B. Until the company’s business objectives and management’s expectations have been laid out, however, working up a strategy is pointless.

Half the job of producing a successful e-strategy is getting very precise about the business objectives. Not just the e-business objectives. All the business objectives. Your reasoning? Simple. Company resources that would otherwise be directed towards meeting traditional business goals are necessarily going to be diverted to support the new e-business. There is thus little certainty that the company is going to be able to exceed traditional targets. So your first question for the Executive Committee is “What’s B?”

Once the Executive Committee has ratified the business objectives for traditional and new e-business lines, what they want to know is “How do we get to B?” They think that the move from A to B is going to be a journey and you’re going to tell them how to get there.

But an e-strategy is not a map of a journey between A and B. At its core, e-strategy is about a transformation. “How do we get to B?” is the wrong question. The right question is “What do we have to become to get to B?”

This isn’t wordplay. Management is naturally conservative when change is on the horizon. Their first assumption about getting to B probably comes from a naive projection based upon the company’s first Web site. That was the last time they thought about this subject. Now what they’re expecting is a short list of some new software and a couple of Web servers. Maybe hire a dot-com to work up a whole new look and feel for the site. Do some juggling of management responsibilities for content management. End of story. Next item on the agenda?

But you’ve got other plans. You know that e-strategy is driven by a new focus on the customer that lets them and their expectations shape and run a company.

Your company’s biggest challenge will be successfully managing competing expectations from new Internet customers and the ones using traditional points of service. No firm has enough fat around these days to accommodate the demands of two entirely different businesses on their departments. For example, asking Marketing to work up a campaign for an e-business is not just imposing an additional burden on the department but a new kind of burden. Time for some consultation with senior and line managers.


Begin with a short presentation on the management smarts Cisco and Sun Microsystems have employed to take care of their customers. Draw their attention to the major changes both firms have undergone as their customers took over their business. Ask them if they think the company needs a new management model with a VP of E-business. Probe the need for new responsibilities for line managers. Ask about changes to governance, capital investment planning and the planning process.

The e-strategy turns out to be a re-engineering strategy for integrating e-business and traditional business operations within one resource base, your company. Make sure your management arrives at that realization during your consultations.

While your report will not provide the kind of detail management needs to fine-tune the decisions about what to keep, outsource, amalgamate or sell off, the approach you have taken will get their heads out of the e-clouds and focus their deliberations on what needs doing.

Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ont.-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached at

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