Tactics vs Strategy or both? july 31, 2019

Strategy is a word that is so often over used and when used it rarely has any real meaning. So many times I have heard businesses that I have worked for / with use the word strategy in meetings along with some other fluff and the same goes for a lot of businesses that I sold into in my previous career and with my consultancy company yet how many times do we hear the word tactical? I'm a big fan of both terms but whenever I use either word there is an underlying goal, sure fluffy stuff sounds good but people will always come unstuck when others start to delve into the granular detail and ask pertinent questions.

Having had the pleasure of working with so many different enterprise organisations as well as SMB's I have cultivated a broad understanding of business both commercial and technical. I've always liked to work to a plan and have done my best to execute it, I have a personal code of ethics when it comes to business; commitment, accountability, strategy, execution & precision. In order to be successful with any type of plan, be that commercial or technical I've always felt that you need to begin with the end in mind and be proactive in what you are doing (2 of Dr Stephen R Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People). Those two things really resonate with me and I can whole heartedly apply these to both tactics and strategy, for me beginning with the end in mind tells me what the ultimate end goal is which I liken to strategy and being proactive in reaching that goal, I liken to tactics.

I get quite frustrated sometimes when I hear people banding around the word strategy as its clear from the level of detail they are providing you with that they haven't really defined the end goal and what it means to their business or whether it's even a good fit. If you have a weak strategic end game then you will struggle in my opinion to deploy incremental tactical options that ultimately help you realise that vision. The easiest way for me to articulate this would be that most businesses see the cloud as the ultimate strategy or end game (I've worked in the cloud space for almost 10 years covering Private, Public & Hybrid) and don't get me wrong, that may well be the right strategy in some cases but often a CIO or C Level Management has been to AWS Reinvent of Microsoft Ignite and suddenly everything is “cloud native”. The very meaning of Cloud Native is applications that are cloud ready or built for the cloud (micro-service based applications for example can be excellent in public cloud) so for a lot of businesses that would make moving everything into the cloud an extremely painful affair, I always think to myself if you want to see how difficult moving legacy workloads into the cloud is, take a look at Legal & Finance verticals. Both industries suffer from having archaic and legacy application stacks which make them not “cloud ready”. In this scenario someone may have identified what the core strategy is without actually working to see if that strategy will even make sense or how much project management and migration is even needed.

Regardless whether the strategy is correct or not, if a business stands any chance of delivering against it they will need to use the correct tactical approach. In the Cloud scenario, the strategy has been set and reducing and removing all on premise deployments and shifting everything into public cloud. For me the first tactical move should be to take a step back and understand the current infrastructure, networking, security and software Investment and deployment. Once you have a good understanding what's already deployed you have a good starting point, the next tactical move could be to look at the application stack and understand the current needs of those applications such as dependencies and are they cloud ready very similar to a cloud readiness assessment, the next tactical step could be to plan a phased migration and move to a hybrid model before eventually removing all elements of on-prem, you get the point that I'm trying to make.

A non-technical example that I can articulate and that resonates with me would be Business Development & Marketing within an organisation, this example can be quite disharmonious from my personal experience but in order to execute on a strategy both departments must engage in cohesive collaboration, no amount of tactics or strategy can help conflicting agendas. Within most organisations Marketing will set the strategy and it will filter down from the top, here a few tactical steps that could contribute to executing the strategy. Before setting the strategy, understand the end game and agenda from both departments and agree a demarcation point for who's responsible for what, this means everyone knows exactly what they are accountable for, mitigating the risk of sloping shoulders etc. Once Sales understand what is required from them, Marketing need to support them with the correct content and messaging and ensure this ties directly in to the overall goal. Management teams from both departments could review progress on a weekly basis to gauge progress and adapt the tactics or messaging as needed. If any incentives have been offered to the sales team, make sure they are realistic on both sides so no one ends up with a bitter taste in their mouth. Think of this as one brick at a time but instead of just laying bricks in a row to get to the destination, look at the placement of each brick carefully, is there a more efficient route etc.

One of the reasons execution is so important to me personally is that any business can have a great strategy or tactics but without execution it is meaningless so bare that in mind, attitude is so important in achieving anything! Having written this article whilst in Geneva for AI for Good it would be really difficult for me to end this without talking our super cool start up Cumulus1. We were invited by Frontier Development Labs an AI driven NASA research program in association with tech giants such as NVIDIA, Google, IBM and HPE. Having had the chance to evangelise about our mission to low the barrier to entry and bring enterprise compute to the people, I tried to explain to businesses there that if reaping the benefits of AI & Machine Learning was the ultimate strategy then a tactical approach could be to dip their toe in the water for an affordable price on a flexible model (CumulusX) rather than start in something like Google Cluster or AWS Sagemaker or even to lay out 500k in kit, collocate it in a DC and then try and hire a Data Scientist for 80-100k. Businesses ability to be agile is everything and if you purchase kit on Capex, then the finance department will want to ensure that is depreciated over the correct period of time, most likely 5 years. The same can be said of taking an expensive cloud deployment that may leave you agile each month but without the funds to make use of that agility.

Tactics and strategy used together correctly can be the difference between success and failure.

Written by Andrew Ramgobin (CTO)

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