Digital and ICT – same, same but different?

[a five minute read]

One of the biggest challenges for organisations contemplating digital still seems to be where to put it. I’ve been working in this area for a while now and the same questions continuously come up:

What is the difference between digital strategy and technology or IT/ ICT strategy?

Can they coexist? Is digital the new ICT? And where, more importantly, should digital teams actually sit?

These are pretty important questions to answer especially when you are setting up your new digital teams.

So, are they the same or different?

Same, same

On paper,  digital and ICT strategies look quite similar.

Both use technology to enable business outcomes – they architect systems and solutions to make sure businesses thrive.

Both can be transformative – they often push boundaries, challenge thinking and come up with new solutions to problems.

Both are focused on resilience and supporting businesses to adapt to their changing contexts. They proactively address needs, manage risk and respond to changing expectations.

Both can be highly technical and complicated in their implementation. They often require significant investment and expertise to deliver and get right.

Despite this immediate similarity, there are also some clear differences.

But different

For me, the starkest difference between a technology strategy and digital strategy is found when you look at their different goals.

The goal of a technology strategy is to have the right technology to make a business succeed. This means it focusses on software and hardware and the way these can be integrated to make a business better.

The goal of digital strategy is to ensure that same business succeeds in a digital world. This is a really important distinction because it means that digital strategy is about much more than technology.

Let’s break those differences down further:

Technology Strategy v Digital Stategy - comparison chart
Technology v Digital Strategy (of course, this list is not exhaustive)

You can see from the above table that because the starting point is different, the outcome is too. One way to consider it is to see digital as an evolution of technology strategy or, the convergence of business and ICT strategy into a brand new way of thinking. This new perspective recognises the importance of having a clear business vision on one hand and the criticality of technology, to enable that vision, on the other.

Same, same and different

But digital doesn’t mean we no longer need ICT.

While digital provokes different thinking, traditional ICT skills are still critical to help enable businesses to thrive in a digital world. Technology expertise is still required to provide sound system architecture, select the right technology and manage security to ensure digital transformation is realised. So, while different, the same skills happily coexist.

This means that it isn’t so much a questions of where digital strategy should fit. Instead, you should ask: ‘what are the right skills and expertise to apply to it so that I get the best results for my business?’

You’ll still need the (same) technologists but you will also probably need (different) business strategists, data analysts, process engineers, product and service designers and customer and user advocates to collabourate to really understand your business and recommend changes. Moving digital out of your IT department is often important to demonstrate a symbolic shift however it is not as important as getting the right people with the right skills together to enable your transformation.

And, in case you’re wondering – this is how I would answer the questions we started out with

What is the difference between digital strategy and technology or IT/ ICT strategy? See table above! (they actually have very different goals).

Can they coexist? Yes, in fact I think they need to. You can’t do digital well without a sound technology strategy.

Is digital the new ICT? I don’t think so – ICT contributes to/ is a necessary part of digital strategy. It provides a strategic plan for the technology that needs to enable digital transformation. I think digital is closer to business strategy  – it’s a necessary response to a world that has become digital.

Where should digital teams actually sit? Wherever will get the best results for your business! Put digital where you have a committed leadership and where you will get best buy-in from executive teams. Find a home for it where you have the right people, skills, passion and expertise to do it really well.

What do you think? Where has digital landed within your organisation?

 

Still working through the differences and what it takes to set up your new digital team? Get in touch, I’d love to help.

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