Do strategy and technology function independent of each other?
Ritvvij Parrikh is a Product Manager for Samhita.
Technology can help one’s organization operate more efficiently, empower one’s team to do more and reduce costs. Yet the mass proliferation of technology in the Indian social sector is at best restricted. Most of the investments that have made are confined to simple read only solutions like static websites, read/write solutions like blogs and social media and simple project management systems. Social entrepreneurs and NGOs often complain that these investments do not generate an appropriate return to justify continued use. Is it because these technologies do not gel well with the needs of the Indian social sector or is it because of wrong usage on part of the organizations? It could be some of both.
There are two major planning failures that lead to wrong usage of technology. The first reason is the failure to integrate technology into the strategic plan. The second reason is the failure to identify the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). In this article, we will discuss the former; namely the role of strategic business planning and technology investments.
Technology, when discussed in correlation with business strategy, can be divided into two broad categories, namely business extrinsic technology and business intrinsic technology. Business intrinsic technology is technology that is tied in closely with the day-to-day operations and targets of the business function.
Let’s take a hypothetical example – there is a law against collecting personal information of HIV+ patients in order to avoid social stigma if the identity of the patient is leaked. There is an NGO with of vision of serving HIV+ patients. It must comply with the above mentioned law. Such an NGO would not be able to scale up its operations without the use of biometrics. Biometrics is a technology that uses of unique physical features like finger prints, face recognition, etc. to identify individuals. Biometrics would allow the NGO to uniquely identify a patient’s records from a few million records without capturing any personal information. In this case, biometrics is business intrinsic technology and should be an integral part of the NGO’s strategy. The same NGO might be using other technology like Twitter or Facebook to propagate its message, but these investments are business extrinsic, as they do not impact the strategic objective of the NGO. However, if the NGO had an advocacy and awareness arm whose sole purpose was to propagate HIV/AIDS awareness to a few million, then Twitter and Facebook become business intrinsic investments for the this arm. The marketing strategy would be incomplete if it would not have specifically considered Twitter and Facebook.
Thus the strategic goal of the organization and its related intrinsic technology go hand in hand. Each one is meaningless without the other. An organization might have the best of business plans or goals, but if they cannot be achieved sustainably and scaled, they do not have an impactful future. Conversely, there might be an amazing piece of technology, but if it does not have a meaningful real world purpose, the technology’s effective usage would be limited.
To conclude, whenever an organization invests in business intrinsic technology, be it as simple as using twitter, there has to be a concurrent strategic goal to leverage that investment.