Before COVID-19 hit System Integrators were already faced with apparent paradigm shifts in technology platforms and their associated delivery services. Clients and Service Provides alike were being bombarded with new phraseology such as “Digital Transformation”, IIoT, and Augmented Reality. Many SIs I know scrambled to even define exactly what those terms meant and how they could provide relevant services in those spaces. Then, with COVID-19 causing major shifts in how we all do business and interact with clients and partners, many SIs are now also searching over the horizon to figure out how we all even adapt to the “new normal” of attracting new clients, fostering client interest and securing new business while staying profitable and sustainable. The “new normal” of marketing as well as business operations in general due to COVID-19 might be the catalyst for every SI to re-visit their strategic plan they might have created more than 9 months ago. For an SI without a strategic plan in place, now would be an excellent time to engage in the activities of creating one with the “new normal” of conducting business in mind. Regardless of which category an SI falls into, let us review the key areas to cover in refreshing or creating your “new normal” strategic plan.
Simply put, an SI’s Strategic Plan addresses three (3) fundamental topics – what are you selling, who are you selling to, and how can you beat or avoid your competition? Those questions spawn a variety of topics to discuss and consider.
When you immerse your company’s leadership in the strategic planning process you’ll be covering a vast array of topics that touch on all aspects of your operation such as marketing, business development, business partnerships, human resources, company culture, company financials.
Absolutely crucial is to first perform a self-evaluation of your company to establish your baseline for your strategic plan. Company leadership should be asked what they think are the company’s top strengths, top weaknesses, tops threats, top opportunities, and most important issues facing your business now and in the next 3-5 years. Getting consensus on these key areas is vital to having the team move forward in unity.
Developing a clear picture of the market you’re in is paramount. What market segment(s) are you active in and want to pursue? Who is your competition? What products and services do you want to provide? How do you plan to market to your targeted clients? Are your clients loyal to you or are they always operating on “low bid gets the order”? What type of clients do you want to target? What future external factors might affect your strategic plan, such as technology, supplier market, economics, or regulations? Your discussions and considerations here deserve a “deep dive.”
As your marketing plan takes shape your business development strategy follows. Areas your leadership team should discuss are how to increase revenues, possible growth in terms of business expansion, increasing profitability by building strategic partnerships and through increased efficiency in quoting and delivering solutions to clients.
Company culture and human resources can be overlooked; yet they are key components to developing a comprehensive strategic plan. As your leadership team assesses culture, resources, and HR they might consider addressing these questions. Does your company have quality resources top to bottom with a wide variety of skills? What are your resources current strategic competencies? Should you further train your current resources, or do you look at hiring additional resources to support the products and services you intend to offer? How flexible or rigid is your team to reacting and responding to schedule changes, short quoting timelines, short project execution timelines? How committed is the company towards employee happiness and career development? Are team members encouraged to seek innovation and contribute creativity in a collaborative way? How loyal are team members to the company? Employee surveys sent to each company team member by HR can help answer these questions. You might be surprised, and enlightened, at the responses.
All topics and questions previously raised affect company financials. How is your company going to maintain a profitable and sustainable financial future unless your strategic plan incorporates creating the corresponding financial model? Critical areas to focus on are a five-year operating budget, balance sheet, profitability forecast, and measures of success. Great plans are based on sound financial business models.
Many books and consultants exist to help you through the strategic planning process should you need it. Keep in mind, this is an effort that deserves ample time to discuss, analyze and create a documented plan to be shared with your team members. Additionally, it’s not something that you create once then stick it on the shelf to collect dust waiting for the next pandemic. Your plan should be routinely reviewed, assessed for continued relevancy, and altered if needed to account for changes in any one section. It’s crucially important to have a plan to not only set a path to follow but to also measure your company’s progress and success as you follow your plan. Your endgame is to have a road map as you travel down the road of the future towards, hopefully, success under the “new normal”.
Steve J. Malyszko, P.E., is chief executive officer at Malisko Engineering, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). See Malisko Engineering’s profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.