I’m a Donald Marchand fan

donald marchand

Donald A. Marchand is Professor of Strategy Execution and Information Management at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. The use of a middle initial gives the game away; he's American, but I can't hold that against him. He's really cool, intellectually speaking.

Information Orientation

I first came across him in the late 1990s, when he was undertaking an extensive scientific study called 'Navigating Business Success' on the the effective use of information, people and IT capabilities in improving business performance. It was the first time I'd seen someone scientifically link people, process, IT and competitive advantage together. I was hooked.

His findings were published by Oxford University Press in 'Information Orientation: The Link to Performance' (2001) and John Wiley and Sons in 'Making the Invisible Visible' (2001). If you don't have the time or patience to read a book, try the MIT Sloan Management Review summary.

The Information Orientation framework he developed is a diagnostic tool for measuring and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a organisation's information capabilities. The concept is simple (with hindsight), and ties together how an organisation deals with its technology, how it identifies, collects and uses its information, and what is acceptable behaviour in relation to that data.

I was lucky enough to be taught by Professor Marchand during my EMBA in 2004. One case we studied was CEMEX, a Mexican cement company, who used high tech solutions and the behaviours and values of its people to outstrip its competitors in a traditionally low tech industry. Another case was Dell, who achieved massive competitive advantage in a commodity industry through knowledge creation and information flow among its employees, customers and suppliers.

Schizophrenic IT organisations

I recently came across his latest publications on the changing role of the IT organisation, and again it struck a chord.

IT organisations are being asked, if not commanded, to undertake more projects and deliver faster results with less resources than ever before. You can blame the recession, but this is a trend that isn't going to reverse any time soon.

Just look at the recent popularity of the Scrum development method in which Executives expect results in weeks instead of years.

The CIO has been catapulted from someone the rest of the Board tolerated as long as he didn't speak until spoken to, to someone holding centre stage in the organisation's fight for survival and competitive advantage.

The IT organisation has recently had additional roles thrust upon it, whether it likes it or not:

  • the Developer, automating processes and enabling communication through IT solutions. This is the traditional role of the IT organisation;
  • the Broker, acquiring products and services, and if necessary assembling these to fulfil the demands of the business organisation. This role has developed as the Business discovered that it could source IT components outside the organisation, but still needed integration if these were ever going to work;
  • the Value Generator, providing business advantage through the deployment of innovative IT and the associated change in behaviours and mindsets. This is a relatively new phenomena, and one that is often driven by mavericks who see not only the facilitary value of IT, but the positive effect of its disruptive value too. Opportunity is the counterpart of Risk.

Professor Marchand argues that "this is giving rise to a schizophrenic IT organization. One side is focused on running global infrastructure and implementing big-system-application programs over three to five years, where the emphasis is on compliance, security, reliability, and effective 24/7 operations. The other side is focused on “making IT happen” rapidly without the complex plans and multi-year rollouts that have been institutionalized in large IT organizations."

He argues that these roles should not be considered as belonging just to the IT organisation, as is generally currently the case, but as something that permeates all parts of an organisation. The roles are a set of connected behaviours, obligations, beliefs and norms that will affect a broad range of managers and staff in an organisation. "The challenge is to reconfigure resources and accountabilities across the organization to meet the remit of these roles."


So basically, if you think the past few years in IT have been tumulutous, hang on to your hats. There are stormy seas coming, but those who learn to navigate them will have rich pickings.

Read more on Professor Marchand and IMD.

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