Industry Insight: What Should Be At The Core Of Your Business Strategy

We spoke to Clive Tillotson, Director of Business Operations & Strategy at Fujitsu


Ahead of his presentation at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in London this April 25&26, we spoke to Clive Tillotson, Director of Business Operations & Strategy at Fujitsu.

Trained as an archaeologist, Clive Tillotson then spent 11 years as a helicopter pilot in the army, which involved formulating and executing aviation strategies and doctrine for the European Army. He then joined Fujitsu in 2007 as a consultant in Fujitsu’s globalisation project, before becoming a portfolio director owning some of the foundational projects to standardise the business, such as globalising the corporate red alerts process for Fujitsu. As VP of Strategy & Operations for Fujitsu’s Global Delivery Group, Clive’s role now encompasses the formulation of a strategy for the services arm of Fujitsu and the agreement of that strategy with corporate HQ, as well as a subsequent implementation of that strategy. As a ‘small T’ technologist, Clive is particularly interested in User Experience Technology and Innovation and is currently focussed on augmented and virtual reality.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

If I got the role descriptions of ten specimen strategists, I’d see ten different interpretations of the role! So my starting point would be that amid immense variety in the role, a strategy is swinging back to being something that needs generalistic skills. The main reason for this is the massive disruption caused by things like Digital and Brexit. Digital technology is so disruptive to business models that the skills to digest and analyse its reach are far beyond its technical fundamentals. Brexit is a rat’s nest of potential cause-and-effect that again, has the capacity to touch everything.

Discrete expertise in, for example, technology strategy or finance strategy has to be coupled with an awareness of more general trends like digitisation, Brexit, or demographics, otherwise, any strategy or planning will be a miss. However, generalists need to bring their own discrete skills to the party. They need to be adroit storytellers and communicators otherwise, they will be forgotten. Also, they need to be strong planners because otherwise, the strategy will lack rigour. Finally, I think that they need to have contrasting experience from outside their current industry because it’s increasingly important to leverage that, in order to open up potential sources of innovation and disruption.

What are the main elements of a successful business strategy?

Three things. Your strategy has to be simple to execute (which is different from inherent simplicity) because that has to be done by overworked, practical people. It must also be seen as original (which is different to actually being original) otherwise, it will disappear into the heat and noise of the business. Finally, it has to be mandated and communicated into the business to the point where ignorance of the strategy is no excuse.

What can companies do to adjust to the new climate of the global political and economic uncertainty?

In the past, a lot of us might have made this slightly breezy observation that uncertainty equals opportunity. Something feels very different this time, and I’m not sure that geopolitically and economically, there’s currently much latent opportunity. In fact, we’re entering a period when it’s going to be very difficult for companies to find the conviction to make a call and implement something bold. The simple reason is that there is so much ‘wait-and-see’ building up in the world at the moment.

I see this from two perspectives:

Firstly, I think that this is actually a catalyst for companies to digitise and automate more deeply. The reason is that digital decisions are more adjustable than, say, an acquisition in a certain territory.

Secondly, I think that companies need to revive the ability of leadership to make a call. Even in the highly unlikely situation when your customers, balance sheet, and your business model aren’t telling you that you need to change, your heart probably is. But companies seem to struggle with the act of making decisions and as a result, miss their opportunity.

I’d also say that as uncertainty increases, the models needed to analyse it are actually getting simpler. One of the reasons is that people are struggling to process the increased uncertainty, they don’t need the additional burden of having to think about it in some form of 'smarty-pants tool' or framework. I am shamelessly going back to some pretty elementary strategic models to organise thought and facilitate discussion, and these are serving me very well!

How can organizations and startups benefit from each other?

I think organisations need to harness the power of startups to make them feel uncomfortable. Organisations have experience and scale, but as they grow, they slow – corporate mechanisms begin to intrude, the talent pool shrinks in relative terms, and the whole organisation can lose focus. Startups have a tenacity and – I dare to say it – some aggression, meaning that they are hungry and adaptive. They are very iterative and innovative, and the trick is to find a mutually reinforcing activity that takes the strengths of both - a more established organisation and a startup - and this collaboration can make something innovative, but also repeatable, and scaleable. The challenge is that this is incredibly hard to do and that JVs and M&A just don’t seem to work well in this environment. I think the best approach is to find acorn projects that enthuse both parties and focus on that project alone and see where it goes.

Would it be right to say that risk management initiatives can kill innovation? Why?

Bureaucracy kills innovation, not risk management. The trick is to get risk management right. I think the news here is positive, certainly, in the ICT industry, we’re coming out of an era where all risk had to be addressed. Instead, I think that all risk has to be understood, and being comfortable with risk is an increasingly important management competency. Additionally, I think that we are now better at compartmentalising risk and so the chances of failing to detect the likelihood of a large, compound, high-impact risk event are rarer. A good example is DevOps, because it is iterative, takes bite-sized chunks out of the pathway from innovation to fulfilment, and retains a common thread of ownership throughout, and this drops the risk profile.

How do you ensure your long term plans are reactive to disruption?

Let me turn this around as a question. How effective do you think your long-term plans are for you? Can you recall long-term plans are really materialising? I’d invite a different approach, instead of investing massive efforts in your long-term plans, consider different scenarios for the business and build a narrative around each one, including how you would plan to react as each scenario unfolds. Then, revisit these periodically with leadership teams and see how realistic and likely the scenarios are. Long-term plans can bore even the most committed business leader, but a scenario is more pervasive - it’s a story, a snapshot of possible outcomes that people discuss vigorously, and as they do so, they surface the points of disruption much more readily and focus on how to address that disruption. Long-term plans often sit on the shelf.

You can hear from Clive and other industry leaders at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit, taking place in London this April 25&26.

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