Business Intelligence and Strategic Choices

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1 Business Intelligence and Strategic Choices Walter Cunningham Paul McNamara BenchMark Consulting International Introduction In the preceding article in this series, strategy was defined as a series of choices 1. To develop and successfully execute a winning strategy, a company must make clear, well-informed decisions regarding what activities it will, and perhaps more importantly, will not prioritize and emphasize in allocating its resource and interacting with the marketplace. But how does an organization go about making these weighty decisions? Without a doubt, one of the keys to making the right set of trade-offs is having access to the information necessary to evaluate the available options. As mentioned in the last article, the most important decisions on strategy relate to market positioning. These decisions define how the company presents itself to and interacts with the market, relative to its competitors. Included in market positioning are decisions about what customer segments to target, what products to offer in those segments, and the channels to use. To correctly assess the trade-offs in defining its position in the market, a company must have information related to the size of the potential customer segments and the preferences in those segments for various channels and products. Most companies clearly understand the value of this type of information, and would not dream of undertaking a new strategic direction without gathering the necessary information. 1 Smith, K. & Yaeger, C. Aligning Choices with Strategy: Differentiating Activities. December Business Intelligence and Organizational Alignment Once a company has staked out a position in the market, the next step in defining a strategy is ensuring the alignment of the organization s resources and processes to support and reinforce the selected strategy. As presented in the preceding article, the key to effective organizational alignment is ensuring that the company s resources are deployed in a manner that supports and reinforces the company s selected market positioning. To enable this alignment, it is essential to classify all of the activities in which the company engages based on how they are related to the chosen strategy and market position. Some activities, previously defined as competitive, are directly related to the strategy and market position, serving to directly differentiate the firm from its competition. Others may not serve to differentiate the business directly, but support the competitive activity. These activities, defined as competitive enablers in the preceding article, may provide key inputs or fulfillment needed to successfully complete the competitive activities. Still other activities, identified as business essential or compliance, must be effectively executed in order to keep the organization functioning successfully. These activities include basic day-to-day efforts required to keep the organization going (business essential), as well as activities mandated by regulations, standard practices, and legal statutes (compliance). While business essential activities, by definition, are not directly related to the competitive positioning and enabling activities, they are necessary to the ongoing survival of the organization and must not be lost in the drive for competitive success BenchMark Consulting International, N.A., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2 Much the same as market data - such as market share, sales, demographics and sales trend - can assist an organization in defining its market position, an understanding of the market and competitive performance in these operational activities can aid in evaluating the trade-offs necessary to successfully define and execute a company s strategy (particularly on competitive and enabling activities). However, companies are often less inclined to gather competitive data, referred to as business intelligence, regarding these organizational alignment activities. While some companies may seek to identify best practices in competitive and associated enabling activities, not all do. And few, if any, seek to gather such data regarding business essential or compliance activities. In today s crowded and competitive market, a clear understanding of relative performance in these operational alignment activities can make the difference in selecting and successfully executing a winning business strategy. In defining a strategy, an understanding of current and relative performance on key operational metrics can be used to shape decisions regarding market position and competitive differentiators, enabling the company to develop a strategy that leverages and accentuates areas of operational strength. Once a market position is defined and operational activities are classified, relative performance data for each of the operational activities can be used in a gap analysis to determine the level of effort and investment required in various support processes to achieve the market leadership in competitive and competitive enabling activities or to keep pace with market and regulatory requirements in business essential and compliance activities. Finally, once a new or revised strategy has been implemented, business intelligence data can be used to assess ongoing performance and maintain the desired relationship to competitors based on the classification of a given activity. Business Intelligence in Defining Strategy As previously mentioned, there are few organizations today that fail to recognize the value of market data regarding demographics, demand, market share, and channel utilization in order to define a position in the marketplace. However, the same cannot be said for business intelligence and relative performance data related to operational processes. While many organizations gather this data and place a high value on it, it is viewed primarily as a means to assess and improve operational efficiency and quality - not as a key input to the definition of strategy. For an organization that is just embarking on the journey to define or re-define a strategy, data regarding competitive operational performance can be tremendously valuable in making the decisions needed to win in the marketplace. Consider, for instance, the retail sector. Any effort to position a company as the low-cost provider for a product offered by Wal-Mart would be doomed to failure. A clear understanding of the dynamics of the supply chain and Wal-Mart s unassailable leadership from the standpoint of economies-of-scale and global sourcing would lead the informed organization to choose an alternate market position. For instance, in this example consider the market proposition of an organization like Target. While the company is classified as a discount retailer, it has made key operational decisions that support a more upscale market position, maintaining a more open layout and emphasizing brand name and designer lines. As a result, while Wal-Mart still leads the market overall, Target has been very successful at delivering to its chosen market segment. An interesting and less obvious parallel in the financial industry is the seemingly endless cycle of consolidation in banking. Global financial institutions at the top of the market continue to grow bigger and bigger while competitors in successively lower tiers continue to merge with or acquire smaller institutions. Not unlike Wal-Mart in the retail world, the market proposition for these consolidations is the ability to reap economies of scale and to provide a one-stop shop for all the customer s financial needs. For decades now, this consolidation at the top of the market has been heralded as the death knell for small community banks. In fact, looking exclusively at mergers and acquisitions at any level, one might still draw the conclusion that small banks are doomed. However, looking at the number of requests for new bank charters and public offerings, it is clear that the community bank is alive and well. For each merger or acquisition that is announced, it seems that there is a new community bank BenchMark Consulting International 2 Business Intelligence and Strategic Choices January 2007

3 springing up. These new banks tap the market for customers alienated by the consolidation process and the associated commoditization of products and services. These customers are willing to pay a premium for a local connection and more personalized service. The new community banks springing up to serve the customers cannot hope to compete on a price basis with the likes of Bank of America, Citibank, or Chase. They choose, instead, to build their business by delivering a premium brand market position which emphasizes local ownership and premium service. In terms of this discussion of strategy, market positioning for one of these community banks would be premium service from your local, personal banker. A key element of this positioning would be the delivery channels these banks use to connect with their customers. While phone or network-based communications may be part of the mix, a high level of personal interaction is a key differentiator in such a model. To successfully deliver on this market positioning, knowing the range of ratios of bankers to customers in the bank s market would be a crucial piece of business intelligence. This business intelligence, in conjunction with market demographic data, would allow the bank to define the number of bankers required to serve the targeted number of customers with the level of personal attention necessary to fulfill the bank s market positioning. As mentioned above, while this hypothetical community bank cannot win the pricing battle with the global providers, they can certainly lose it by pricing themselves completely out of the market in the effort to provide top shelf service. So from this perspective, pricing could be considered a competitive enabling activity. The bank must strike a balance between pricing and service such that the price premium over the lowcost, scale providers is offset by the personalized, local service in the customer s mind while still providing the bank with revenues necessary to cover the expenses associated with such premium service and still receive a reasonable profit. Gap Analysis and the Roadmap to Successful Implementation Once an organization has staked out a market position and classified its operational processes as competitive, competitive enabling, business essential, or compliance activities, an understanding of competitive market performance for these activities will be invaluable in building a roadmap to successful implementation of the selected strategy. Each class of activities implies a level of performance relative to the company s competitor landscape. Performance in competitive enabling activities must support the chosen level of market performance for the competitive differentiators. For business essential and compliance activities, the general goal is to meet expectations. Since these activities do not serve to differentiate the company, there is little return for leading the market in these activities. After a performance target is set for each activity, the company can see where it stacks up relative to the target by gathering the necessary business intelligence to assess its relative performance. Where the organization is performing below the established target relative to its competitors, remediation plans must be made in order to meet the competitive threshold required to fulfill the company s strategic direction. If the company is well above its targeted performance level for a given activity, consideration may be given to diverting resources from that activity, particularly if those diverted resources can be directed to areas where performance is lagging the targeted level. In building the roadmap to successful strategy implementation, the classification of a given activity can be used to allocate resources. A company may choose not to reallocate resources, and thereby tune down performance for an activity that is currently overachieving its target if that activity is defined as a competitive or competitive enabling activity, choosing instead to emphasize those activities as part of its market positioning. This would be particularly true if achieving the current level of performance (or getting back to that level) required a significant investment. However, as mentioned previously, it would be unlikely to expend effort to maintain such a position that exceeds the targeted performance level in a business essential or compliance activity. Finally, in planning for the implementation of a new or revised strategy, business intelligence can also provide the company with a plan for the level of effort and investment required to achieve its BenchMark Consulting International 3 Business Intelligence and Strategic Choices January 2007

4 targets. If the organization is seeking to perform at the top of the market for a given competitive activity but currently sits in last position, achieving the targeted performance level will take more time, effort, and resources than if the company is currently an above average performer with just one competitor to overtake. The first scenario may require a complete redesign of the processes used to carry out the activity in question. The latter may require less radical alterations to how the company currently does business. Maintaining a Winning Strategy The development or modification of a strategy is not a trivial exercise. As mentioned in the preceding article in this series, creating or modifying market positioning can be a 2 to 5 year exercise, requiring significant investment of time, effort, and capital. Given the time and expense associated with the effort, once an organization makes this investment, it is vital to maintain and reevaluate the strategy over time. Markets are dynamic. Evolutions (or revolutions) in technology, competition, regulations and other key components can dictate changes and enhancements to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of a company s strategic choices. Once again, business intelligence plays a key role in ensuring the ongoing viability of a company s strategic choices. Just as in providing a roadmap to implement a strategy, a company must evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of its operational efforts to carry out the strategy. In addition to tracking all-important numbers regarding sales, market share, and customer perceptions; the company should continue to gather data on relative performance in its operations. Competitive and competitive enabling activities should continue to maintain the desired leadership position relative to the market. Rest assured that if the strategy is a winning one, competitors will adapt, seeking to close the gap or to come up with a counter move that will negate the advantage you have gained. New competitors may spring up, seeking to emulate your success. In addition, customers, at times, tend to view yesterday s differentiating performance level as today s minimum requirement. To maintain an edge, a winning company must constantly anticipate and respond to changes in market and regulatory expectations. Often, business intelligence data can be used in conjunction with top-line market metrics to evaluate changes in the competitive landscape. A change in market share or a dip in sales may lead a company to evaluate its operational performance for a change in position on a key competitive activity. Conversely, regular analysis may show a change in relative performance on a key competitive metric that is not accompanied by a change in sales or market share. This may encourage the company to reevaluate its definitions and reclassify that activity as less critical from a competitive standpoint, freeing up resources to invest in the remaining competitive differentiators. Conclusion The key to defining and implementing a winning strategy is the choices that an organization makes. Often, the most important choices that a company makes in defining its strategy are the choices regarding what not to do. By choosing not to focus on a particular market segment or channel, the company sets priorities for investments in terms of time, people, and capital. The strategic process begins with market positioning. The company presents itself to the market in terms of the customer segments it serves, the products it offers, and the channels through which it delivers its offerings. Being all things to all people is not a strategy. Even a market leader like Wal-Mart does not compete for every customer or sell every product. Business intelligence can be used to establish a position in the market place. A company which knows and understands its operational strengths and weaknesses can use that information, stake out a position that leverages its strengths, and downplay areas of relatively weak performance. While this may not be the first consideration in defining market positioning, it can provide clarity and support when choosing among the competing market positioning approaches. After defining a market position, the company must align its resources to support the position. Based on the chosen market position, the company s activities can be classified as competitive, competitive enabling, business essential, or compliance. For activities classified in each group, the company can then determine the relative performance required to fulfill the BenchMark Consulting International 4 Business Intelligence and Strategic Choices January 2007

5 defined strategy. With business intelligence inhand regarding performance relative to the market place, the company can identify activities where it is exceeding or falling short of the required performance level to fulfill its chosen strategy. This defines the gap that must be filled in order to successfully deliver on the company s chosen strategy. In areas where the company is underperforming, improvements must be made. Areas where the company is exceeding its target, a decision may be made to redeploy resources depending on the type of activity where the gap exists. The size of the performance gap can also be used to assess the level of change necessary to achieve the desired strategic goal. Careful monitoring is required once a company begins the process of implementing a new strategy. The competitive landscape is constantly changing. To ensure the ongoing effectiveness of a strategy, the company must regularly reevaluate performance in its key differentiating activities. Other market participants may make changes to close the gap or the needs of the market may change, making a level of performance that once may have been a differentiator into a minimum requirement. Business intelligence with regards to operational performance is, once again, a key element of the monitoring and analysis required to maintain a successful business strategy. Walter D. Cunningham is President at BenchMark Consulting International and possesses more than 20 years experience in the financial services industry. In addition to his other responsibilities, Cunningham has the responsibility for auto finance practice with a core focus on the strategic relationship management and consulting services delivery. Paul McNamara is a consultant at BenchMark Consulting International with extensive experience in the financial services industry. He specializes in commercial, small business, mortgage, and consumer lending. During his successful career in the industry, Paul has worked in a variety of functional areas and roles at leading financial institutions, including credit, underwriting, loan operations, system design, development, and support, call center administration, direct marketing, project management, and process improvement. BenchMark Consulting International has specialized in improving the financial services industry since The company is a management consulting firm that improves the profitability of its financial services customers through the delivery of management decision-making information and change management services to realize the benefits of business process changes. BenchMark Consulting International s expertise is in the measuring, designing, and managing of operational processes. The firm has worked with 38 of the top 50 (in asset size) commercial banks, all 14 automobile captive finance corporations, several of the largest consumer finance corporations and many regional and community banks throughout the United States. Internationally, BenchMark Consulting International has worked with the five largest Canadian commercial banks, more than 40 European organizations in 11 different countries, in addition to financial institutions in Latin America, Australia and Asia. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., with clients in more than 50 countries and territories, providing application software, information processing management, outsourcing services and professional IT consulting to the financial services and mortgage industries. BenchMark Consulting International has dual headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia and Munich, Germany. For more information please visit BenchMark Consulting International 14 Piedmont Center NE, Suite 950 Atlanta, GA (404)

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