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“A business strategy is a well articulated vision of where a business seeks to go and how it expects to get there” (Pearlson & Saunders, 2004). An organization’s decisions regarding both organizational and information systems strategies must be governed by this overarching business strategy. The information technology strategy must fit into the business strategy and be reevaluated constantly to ensure the company is meeting its strategic goals. The information systems strategy will both affect, and be affected, by the business strategy. Pearlson and Saunders (2004) discuss two important business models: the Porter generic strategies framework and D’Aveni’s hyper-competition model.
The Porter generic strategies framework can be a useful tool to help managers identify and understand the strategy options available in the search for competitive advantage. Porter (1985) identified three primary strategies that allow a business to obtain this advantage: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus. I feel that this competitive advantage is just as dependent on the competition’s strategy and execution as it is on the organization’s position in the market relative to those competitors.
Porter (1985) contends that the goal of a cost leadership strategy is to be the lowest-cost producer in a particular marketplace. By minimizing the costs associated with doing business the organization is able to obtain above average performance. “To be successful, this strategy usually requires a considerable market share advantage or preferential access to raw materials, components, labor, or some other important input. Without one or more of these advantages, the strategy can easily be mimicked by competitors” (Wikipedia.org, n.d.). The organization must also offer a product or service of comparable quality to its higher cost competition. It is only when the quality of two competing products is comparable that a customer will be able to realize the relative value of the product made by the cost leader. In order for an organization to properly execute a cost leadership strategy it must streamline operations and reduce overhead while decreasing the time it takes to get products from the idea to the customer stages. Proper design and use of information technology systems allow an organization to distribute information, coordinate efforts, share resources, automate processes, and analyze data in order to make the cost leadership strategy a market reality.
“Through differentiation, the organization qualifies its product or service in a way that allows it to appear unique in the marketplace” (Pearlson & Saunders, 2004). The organization identifies the features most important to its customers and then attempts to add value by improving upon or augmenting those facets.
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A focus strategy allows an organization to focus on a particular market segment and tailor its products or services for that group of customers. The organization can either tailor those products or services by focusing on a cost advantage through cost focus, or distinguish its products or services from the rest of the market through a differentiation focus. An excellent example of differentiation focus is the use of frequent player cards at slot machines in certain major casinos. The casino is able to track wins, losses, visits, and service preferences through their information systems and use this information to offer customer rewards and better serve their clients.
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A general manager cannot rely on the information systems manager to make IS decisions. The interdependence of the IS and business strategies demands that the general manager be involved in the IS decision making process and keep the IS team informed of business strategy changes. Additionally, changes in IS capability such as creation of new technology or new affordability of old technology should spur a reassessment of the business strategy in the event that new IS capabilities can offer a new advantage.