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Introduction to Management 103   no comments

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Last week I wrote about organization contexts. This week I wanted to change tack to consider business planning and marketing, and how they fit within the competitive process (in particular, in the online world). Changes in the external world create uncertainty and management planning is a systematic way to cope with that and to adapt to new conditions.

Strategic plans apply to the whole organization or business unit, setting out the long-term goals and objectives of an enterprise (effectively, where it wants to be and how to get there). It will usually combine an analysis of external environmental factors with an internal analysis of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. This can be referred to as a SWOT assessment (bringing together reflection on internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats). It includes drawing information as described in last week’s post as Porter’s five forces analysis of the competitive environment in which organizations are situated.

Forecasting is relevant in dynamic and complex situations but encounters problems when the sector is marked by rapidly changing trends. So-called scenario planning is an attempt to create coherent and credible alternative stories about the future. For example, consideration might be given to how the internet (as a major force in the external environment) might affect a company’s business over the next 5-10 years. According to Boddy, this process can bring together new ideas about the environment into the heads of managers, thus enabling them to recognize new and previously unthinkable possibilities. This, in turn, facilitates the development of contingency plans to cope with outcomes that depart from the most likely scenario. On the downside, the scenario planning process is time-consuming and costly.

Once a plan has been formulated, the next stage is to identify what needs to be done by whom. New technological projects often fail, for example, because planners pay too much attention to the technological aspects and too little to the human aspects of structure, culture and people. Good communication and implementation structure are therefore key.

Hand-in-hand with planning is the topic of decision-making under management theory, including the ability to recognize a problem and set objectives in trying to find a solution. A company facing rapidly changing technological and business conditions needs to be able to make decisions quickly. Boddy gives the example of managers at Microsoft being slow to realize that Linux software was a serious threat which caused a delay in competitive reaction.

There are various decision-making management models, including: computational strategy (rational model); compromise strategy (political model); judgmental strategy (incremental model); and, inspirational strategy (garbage can model). It is interesting to make comparisons between economics and the first aforementioned model which suggests that the manager’s role is to maximize economic return to the company by making decisions based on economically rational criteria. Developments in technology have encouraged some observers, says Boddy, to anticipate that computers would be able to take over certain types of decisions from managers. It is true that new applications are used in many organizational settings when decisions depend on the rapid analysis of large quantities of data with complex relationships by using rational, quantitative methods (such as in utility companies). Such automated decision-making systems “sense online data or conditions, apply codified knowledge or logic and make decisions – all with minimum amounts of human intervention” (Davenport and Harris, 2005). Of course, a behavioral theory of management decision-making – as well as economics in general – is also possible.

Understanding strategic management decisions also helps to analyze an organization’s perceived relationship with the outside world set against the particular features of the market in which it competes. In the early stages of a market’s growth, there are often few barriers to entry and establishing customer loyalty is all-important, but this changes as the market matures and customers become familiar with the products being sold. Markets also vary in their rate of technological change. At one extreme, firms experience a slow accumulation of minor changes, while at the other they face a constant stream of radical new technologies that change the basis of competition. Managers need to identify the core competences that an organization has or needs to compete effectively. Analysis of the separate activities in the value chain can assist in this respect: the firm’s cost position and its basis of differentiation from its competitors to add value being two main sources of competitive advantage.

It is a moot question to what extent strategy perspectives developed when the competitive landscape contained only offline firms are still relevant in the internet age. The Web allows firms to overcome barriers of time and distance, to serve large audiences more efficiently while also targeting groups with specific needs, and to reduce many operating costs. However, it has been argued (Kim 2004) that some things stay the same – such as the need to invest in a clear and viable strategy. On that basis, generic strategies of differentiation and cost leadership still apply to online business. Nonetheless, a focus strategy (involving targeting a narrow market segment, either by consumer group or geography) is not as relevant to online firms as it is to offline ones because the Web enables companies to reach both large and tightly defined companies very cheaply. Indeed, Kim (2004) argues that online strategies may be proposed as forming a continuum of cost leadership and differentiation as an integrated competitive strategy rather than as alternatives as they are sometimes conceived (think of how Ryanair and British Airways now compete in closer proximity to one another due to the online effect).

Marketing has been defined as a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they want through creating and exchanging products and value with each other (Kotler and Keller 2006). Its basic function is to attract and retain customers at a profit.

In order to identify customers, and select the marketing mix that will satisfy customer demands and succeed in achieving organizational objectives, managers need information about consumer demands, competitor strategies and changes in the marketing environment. Marketing is, therefore, an information-intensive activity involving understanding buyer behavior. Aware of a need, consumers also search for information that will help them decide which product to buy.

A marketing channel decision for companies is whether to make purchases of their products available online. This channel allows easy gathering of data for marketing purposes. This decision has been embraced by many businesses such as easyjet and Using electronic channels of distribution is a differentiation tool, on the grounds that consumers prefer online convenience and see this as a product feature. Indeed, for many companies, online product distribution is a complementary channel used to widen product access to geographically remote markets (e.g. supermarkets, which often offer discounts over store prices).

This point ties in more generally to issues around how existing physical businesses can take advantage of the opportunities that the Web offers. For example, Virgin managers were quick to pick up on the fact that their businesses were ideally suited to e-commerce in the early internet years. To exploit this potential, they decided to streamline their online services with a single Virgin web address. This general topic is one to which I would like to return (in particular, I have taken out a book from the library by Groucutt and Griseri entitled ‘Mastering e-business’ which I would like to work through).

However, in the interests of balance, next week I turn to my other discipline and field of interest: economics 101.

Written by amk1g10 on November 10th, 2011

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