If your business already has an IT strategy in place but is now beginning to develop a digital strategy, there may be questions as to what each strategy should encompass? What goes in digital and what’s included in IT?
Here, we try to provide you with a comprehensive answer to a complex question – what is the difference between IT strategy and digital strategy?
What Is the Difference Between IT Strategy and Digital Strategy?
As with many widely adopted technological terms, there is some confusion as to how to define both digital and IT strategies.
In large part, this is due to the fact that they can mean different things to different people and that their definitions are still constantly evolving. As our concept of what digital is and can do changes, so too does our notion of what it encompasses. With this in mind, we thought it a good idea to take a look at four of the most common ways in which many people distinguish between the two strategies.
Four Ways of Distinguishing Between Digital and IT Strategies
1. Content vs Technology Strategy
One of the most convincing descriptions of the distinction between digital and IT is that digital is concerned with the content distributed through technological channels and that IT deals with the hardware that facilitates the distribution.
In this sense, digital strategy has been summed up as a ‘proxy for website content, e-commerce, social media, mobile and email marketing; the driver being a shift from channel to content.’ Consequently, the digital vs IT debate becomes a simple matter of content vs hardware.
However, this distinction isn’t entirely in keeping with the way in which the terms are frequently used. For instance, the deployment of cloud technology is often mentioned in modern digital strategies, yet it clearly has both content and hardware-based applications. With such examples, the line between digital and IT is often blurred and it’s difficult to tell where one strategy ends and the other begins.
2. Proactive Approach vs Reactive Approach
Another popular way of explaining the difference between digital strategy and IT strategy is that the former concerns a ‘business answer to a digital question’ and that the latter is a technological answer to a business question.
In other words, digital strategy should be considered an integral part of the business’ wider digital strategy. It is not distinct from the business’ overall strategy but it is a specific perspective on it. On the other hand, IT strategy considers the way technology can be used to meet the needs of the business strategy.
The first is proactive and a means of determining the direction in which an organisation heads, while the second focuses on ensuring that the technology at the organisation’s disposal can achieve these goals.
3. Technology that Transforms vs. Transforming Technology
There is a third way of defining both of our core concepts. This distinction treats technology as something that can be changed or altered in isolation, without affecting overall strategy.
It is best explained in the following way:
- Digital strategy examines the ways in which technology can be leveraged to transform practices, processes and procedures within an organisation – changing the business and its overall strategy as it does so.
- On the other hand, IT strategy looks to change, fix, or improve technology without impacting on an organisation’s wider strategy.
4. Digital Strategy vs. The Rest
Some organisations have decided that it’s best to first clearly define their digital strategy. Anything else technologically-related but that doesn’t fall into this category, is then included in their IT strategy. This clearly prioritises digital strategy over IT strategy, essentially treating the latter as a “catch-all” concept that handles anything technology related that hasn’t found its way into the digital strategy. While this may be a useful way for some organisations to approach the issue, it gives us no clear definition for either concept.
The Move From One Paradigm to Another
As we’ve seen above, an argument (or four) can be made that there are substantial differences between an organisation’s digital strategy and its IT strategy. However, with so little clarity surrounding the issue, it’s safe to say that there is some confusion as to what actually differentiates the two.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a distinction. We would suggest that there are two factors that should be taken into consideration when thinking about the difference between digital and IT. They are:
- The distinction is contextual – The way an organisation distinguishes between IT and digital (and whether they do) is dependent on the industry in which they operate and the work they carry out. For instance, a digital marketing business is likely to have a far more expansive concept of digital strategy than a construction firm.
- We are in the middle of a paradigm shift – When organisations were first beginning to adopt digital technology, a smaller, simpler strategy was all that was necessary. This was the IT strategy. As the extent to which digital technology was to impact the future of business and local government service provision became apparent, a more complex and all-encompassing strategy became necessary. Consequently, broader digital strategies began to be developed and adopted by organisations.
Currently, we’re in a transition period – organisations still utilise the vocabulary and organisational structure of the “IT era” but have also realised that digital technology is having far-reaching consequences that go beyond the scope allowed by previous strategies. This has forced them to introduce new ideas, concepts, and terminology to meet the needs of modern consumers. These have coalesced in the form of digital strategy.
As there is no clearly defined difference between IT strategy and digital strategy, it is largely up to your organisation to decide how it wants to differentiate between the two. This is no bad thing. In fact, it gives you greater flexibility to build strategy in a way that suits your operations.
We would recommend working together with experts in the field to develop a clear concept of how separate digital and IT strategies could affect your business and the ways in which they could be deployed to improve performance. More importantly, digital specialists will also be able to help you communicate the difference between strategies to staff, ensuring they understand why changes are being made and why the adoption of a new digital strategy is of the utmost importance.