Don’t confuse technology with strategy

PHOTO: Providence Doucet | unsplash

I know the saying goes “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. But I think there could be a hierarchical taxonomy on the breakfast menu, with culture at the top, strategy next, and then business processes and technology trailing somewhere at the bottom.

Don’t get me wrong, technology is important. But he must take his place as a facilitator. Information technology, by which I mean all the technologies that help us create and manage data, information and knowledge, is a toolbox. We take the right tools out of the box to enable us to complete the job at hand, hence my categorization of IT, including software platforms, as enablers. Technology allows us to produce things, record things, ship things as part of our business processes. We don’t implement technology for technology’s sake (or at least I hope we don’t), we implement it to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and help us build better processes. In other words, we implement technologies to support business value creation.

Why does strategy eat technology?

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” argues that while strategy is important, a strong and enabling culture is necessary for organizational success. The phrase is often attributed to Peter Drucker, and although he didn’t say it, he had a lot to say about the strategy. As early as 1973, he took a fresh and critical look at what the term “strategic planning” meant and which now guided his thinking.

Summarizing all of Drucker’s writings in a short space is difficult, but we can try to capture the essence of his thinking: the point of developing a strategy is not to try to predict the future. Rather, the real goal is to develop analytical frameworks and be able to plan for the commitment of resources in what he called an “unknown and unpredictable” future business environment. Indeed, he said that strategists should become “deliberately opportunistic”.

What does all this mean in the context of technology implementation? Based on my study of Drucker during my MBA and my 20+ years in computer science (primarily information management and related fields), I interpret it as follows:

The strategy required to achieve your business goals is more important than the technologies you use as enablers of that strategy.

It sounds simple enough and yet it often gets lost, especially when the “next thing” in technology arrives. Whether it’s the practical application of AI, the use of robotic processing automation (RPA), or turning business analysts into citizen developers without code tools, there is no unique technological miracle solution. The advent of a new, trendy and seemingly popular technology requires the use of Drucker’s strategic analysis framework: how can you make this technology work for you by activating your business strategy?

Related article: Technologies alone are never the answer

TLA, Strategy and Technologies

Three-letter acronyms (TLAs) are precisely what made me rethink this topic.

There has been a lot of discussion recently in the legal tech space about the popularity and prevalence of one particular TLA: CLM. In this context, CLM is contract lifecycle management. The recent Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) conference sparked a number of discussions on Twitter about how CLM is such a hot market. And yet, at the conference, very few of them succeeded in deploying a CLM platform or achieving good adoption of their preferred technology.

Which brings us full circle. Because when people talk about CLM, what they really mean is “a CLM platform” or “a CLM software”. They don’t think about the business strategy of managing contracts throughout their life cycle. If you think of CLM as a strategy and then choose the technologies that enable your contract-centric business processes, perhaps the process of applying the analytical framework suggested by Drucker and determining the resources needed before jumping into a technology purchase could help you achieve the goals. regarding contract management.

This situation reminds me of where we were in the early 2000s with enterprise content management (ECM). Many vendors wanted you to believe that the ECM was a mythical platform to rule them all, a single enterprise content management system underpinning all of your content-centric business processes. I was lucky enough to be involved in a huge greenfield project where we built a unique platform, but such opportunities were rare.

When I moved to Canada and went to work at a bank as an in-house strategy consultant with specific responsibilities for ECM, I discovered that the bank was using almost every major ECM platform available: IBM FileNet, OpenText LiveLink, EMC Documentum, plus many SharePoint, iManage and other platforms. I had blogged about this reality for a few years before taking the role – that enterprise content management should be taken seriously as a strategy! ECM was not just a purchasing decision for a single technology platform, rather it was a set of strategies for managing terabytes of information in the form of many and varied types of unrelated content. structured throughout the organization. He acknowledged that there was no “one size fits all” strategy and certainly no “one ring to rule them all” technology platform. Instead, he focused on business processes and using the right tool for the right job to create back-office efficiencies and business value.

Related Article: The Sudden Shift to Remote Work Exposed Years of Bad Tech Decisions

What’s old is new?

So when I see the amount of investment pouring into the “hot” CLM software market, I think about the whole history of ECM and wonder if what’s old is new again, just in an industrial context. or different commercial. Leading industry analyst Gartner already divides contract management into a series of use cases in its CLM Magic Quadrant and you can see that vendors that do well for procurement-focused use cases n don’t necessarily perform well for legal-centric use cases. Perhaps that means it’s time for business leaders, their analysts and consultants to own the acronym and make contract lifecycle management a strategy, in which the implementation of technological tools as enablers can be deliberately opportunistic, as Drucker would say.

Gartner phased out the term ECM in 2017, replacing it with Content Services. Guess what? He just killed the content services magic quadrant because he sees the market as very mature. So how long before CLM meets the chopping block?

Are we approaching “CLM is dead… Long live Contract Management strategies”?

Jed Cawthorne is Senior Product Manager at NetDocuments. He is involved in product innovation and management and works with customers to make NetDocuments even more phenomenally successful products.

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