Do you need an online strategy?

Paul Boag

It seems like every organisation is putting together an online strategy these days, but do they really need one and what is its role anyway?

At face value having an online strategy makes a lot of sense, but recently I read a post by Gerry McGovern that made me question this assumption. Gerry wrote:

Online is not something that can be neatly separated from the rest of the organization. It affects every aspect of the organization, from its employees to its customers. So, for that reason, you don’t need an online strategy. You need a single organizational strategy that is heavily influenced by online.

Gerry goes on to quote Freek Vermeulen, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School:

Most companies do not have a strategy. Most companies and their top executives do not have a good rationale for doing the things they are doing and cannot explain coherently how their actions should lead to superior performance.

He goes on to say that companies cycle between drifting and reacting.

My own experience certainly backs up this belief. I can also see where Gerry is coming from when he suggests that organisations need an overall business strategy that includes the web. However, I am not convinced this means we should do away with a online strategy. In fact I think it has a valuable role to play.

The role of the online strategy

Most executives would probably deny the need for an overall strategy review, either claiming it was unnecessary or that they already had a strategy that was more than adequate.

In short, executives don’t see a need for an organisational strategy because they feel in control of their business. However, they do not feel in control of the web.

They don’t ‘get’ the web and lack confidence in their approach to it. That is why they are so keen to have a web strategy. They are looking to get a grasp on this unfamiliar area and so recognise the need for it. In other words convincing management of the need for a web strategy is an easy sell.

Where things get interesting is in the creation of this web strategy. As somebody who writes these documents on a regular basis I can attest that they inevitably lead to broader questions about the overall organisational strategy. As Gerry wrote, you cannot separate one from the other.

This means that the process of creating a web strategy can highlight the need for a more general review of the business. Questions arise that management will struggle to answer. This can help them understand quite how deep rooted the web should be in everything they do, and to see the gaps in their current thinking.

Essentially, I am suggesting that a web strategy review can be a stepping stone to recognising fundamental organisational failures that need addressing. Increasingly digital is becoming an agent for change in many organisations and a web strategy review can be the catalyst for change.

If you want to see fundamental change within your organisation, you can’t do better than encouraging management to undertake a web strategy review.

“Light bulb with drawing graph inside isolated on white background” image courtesy of