GartnerSym 2009: Back to the future with pattern-based strategy

“The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all!” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend the Gartner Symposium and ITXpo in Cannes this year, as a guest of SOCITM. I’ve blogged about my experiences in another post, but the event was notable for the introduction by Gartner of a new strategic framework – pattern-based strategy (TM).

According to Gartner, pattern-based strategy(TM) is a “new IT value model …that is about implementing a framework to proactively seek, model, and adapt to leading indicators, often termed “weak” signals, that form patterns in the marketplace – and to exploit them for competitive advantage.”

As an EA I try to align my approach with whatever style of strategy is dominant in my organisation, and so new models of strategy are a source of constant joy to me (see my previous post on EA styles): I was excited to hear about Gartner’s new sauce.

PBS leverages some pretty impressive technological advances: one of the conference sponsors, Autonomy, is a specialist in analysing patterns in information for meaning. SAP, whose CEO was interviewed in one of the keynote sessions, believe in in-memory databases to enable realtime analytics. All this is made accessible by that old chestnut, Moore’s Law: the advances in computing power now bring large scale analytics solutions within the reach (and budget) of many more reasonably-sized organisations.

Gartner argue that organisations must seek new patterns in the morass of seemingly random data now available to them from “the collective” (the sum total of all structured and unstructured conversations in social media platforms, databases, and other information both inside and outside the organisation), provide models of how the organisation will be affected by these patterns, and provide roadmaps for adaptation of the organisation to optimise their strategic position in the future. The phrase “optempo advantage” is used to describe the ability of an organisation to change rapidly, and this phrase comes from the US military. Which is a bit of a giveaway….

… Because I believe that, while the technology might be new, this approach is actually very old. The strategic style of PBS seems to fit neatly into the “positioning” schools as defined by Henry Mintzberg – analytical approroaches to strategy initially conceived by Sun Tzu, developed by military thinkers like Carl Von Clausewitz  and popularised in business by Michael Porter in the 1980s: the only difference is that we now have access to better analytics.

It’s interesting to me that we seem to be reverting to older models of strategy formation: the only explanation I can think of is that economic pressure is forcing more short-term heuristic thinking within industry – Porter’s ideas were popularised at the time of a previous recession, and perhaps we are now seeing a retrenchment of these older ideas.

Another theory is that this is actually a reaction against the democratising forces of web 2.0 and “digital natives” who are threatening the status quo in many industries. The metaphors of the analytical school are military: we are seeing entire industries fighting for their lives and using the “big guns” of analytics to gain tactical advantages over their competitors.

Another possible reason is that the business of analysis itself is under pressure: in a recession, insight and long-term thinking can be near the top of most lists of “non-essential budget items we could conceivably cut”. The analytical school was very popular in creating the management consulting industry as we know it today, with the creation of McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group: perhaps Gartner are hoping that Pattern-based strategy will have a similar effect on their own fortunes?


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5 Responses to GartnerSym 2009: Back to the future with pattern-based strategy

  1. Pingback: Column 2 : links for 2010-03-26

  2. Pingback: Pattern Based Strategy Continues to Nurrish Debates « CIO Inner Voice

  3. Carole-Ann says:

    Martin, Pattern-based strategy is definitely not a new concept. I do like that it puts all the pieces together. Gartner may need to keep refining the wording to make it more accessible to people but the core of it is quite well thought-out. I put some thoughts together in my blog too — http://bit.ly/berld1

  4. martinhowitt says:

    Carole-Ann, thanks for your comments and your blog post on the subject is certainly very comprehensive and readbale! We are also fans of the approach, and as you say in your blog, the more you think about it the more sense it seems to make.

    It’s been a while now since I posted the original blog entry, perhaps I ought to update it…

  5. Pingback: Pattern Based Strategy Continues to Nurrish Debates

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