Revisiting conventional business frameworks with Oxford's fresh perspective

4 minute read

Since 2015, I've been actively engaged with numerous startups, and over the years, my familiarity with conventional business analysis frameworks, such as SWOT Analysis, Michael Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, PESTLE Analysis, design thinking, Business Model Canvas and innovation strategies, has grown significantly. Interestingly, I had initially encountered these frameworks during my MBA back in 2010, finding them deceptively simple yet quite practical. However, as familiarity often breeds complacency, their true value gradually receded into the background.

My perspective experienced a profound shift when I revisited these conventional business analysis frameworks through various case studies at Saïd Business School. Despite my initial belief that I was well-versed in these concepts, candid discussions with colleagues and professors rekindled my appreciation for their depth and versatility. I soon realised that my extensive experience working with tech startups had, unbeknownst to me, seamlessly incorporated these frameworks into my daily work. Further interactions with startup founders and CEOs reinforced their indispensable role. It was during my time at Oxford that I fully comprehended the richness of these conventional business frameworks, as they found practical application and seamless integration with my daily work within the Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation.

Take cybersecurity companies, for example. They often place an overwhelming emphasis on their cutting-edge AI/ML-powered solutions. Yet, they occasionally overlook the fact that they are not solely technology companies; they are businesses. Despite their top-tier cybersecurity offerings, they sometimes naively assume that product sophistication alone will guarantee success. In reality, their segment is crowded with competitors, necessitating a strategic approach including innovative strategies. While technological advancement is crucial, it's not the sole key to success.

Furthermore, these companies must anchor their product development in sound business strategies that consider their sustainable competitive advantages. Without this foundation, they risk investing in ‘vitamin’ products, which are nice to have but not essential, instead of focusing on ‘painkiller’ solutions. Often, their efforts yield products that, while appealing, fail to generate sufficient revenue for sustained profitability, impairing their competitive edge.

The timeless adage, ‘stick to the basics,’ resonates here. Rather than merely developing products, a holistic approach involving a SWOT analysis for assessing strengths and limitations, a Porter's Five Forces analysis for understanding external factors and a comprehensive VRIO analysis to identify valuable resources and capabilities proves invaluable. These frameworks guide companies in recognising the need for both ‘painkiller’ and ‘vitamin’ products, fostering a more strategic approach to product development.

It's equally crucial to appreciate that the same business framework can yield different outcomes depending on its application. In a simple SWOT analysis for a startup, I identified nearly 12 strengths, a contrast to the founder and CEO's recognition of only 2 or 3. That was a compelling reminder not to underestimate conventional business analysis frameworks. These frameworks work when we make the best use of them, utilising our insights and hands-on experiences.

Recently, I met with a well-established SME that had operated for over half a century. Despite their long history, the CEO, a second-generation leader, grappled with concerns due to minimal net margins. Focused on operational efficiency, both he and his founder father had concentrated on refining their core business without exploring diversification. Here, the role of innovation strategy became useful. A meticulous analysis, incorporating SWOT, Porter's Five Forces and VRIO frameworks, uncovered sustainable competitive advantages. However, to secure future growth, the company had to venture into new business domains.

In our collaborative efforts, we explored the multitude of innovation strategies, including the 7 Fields of Innovation: product innovation, technology innovation, business model innovation, process innovation, marketing innovation, service innovation and organisation innovation. This exploration led them to opt for product innovation, enhancing their product line; process innovation, improving operational efficiency; business model innovation, reimagining their operations; and marketing innovation, transforming their promotional strategies. They also embarked on architectural innovation, reconfiguring the underlying structure and components of their products.

It's not uncommon to assume that seasoned business professionals are well-versed in these strategies. In reality, due to their demanding schedules and the relentless demands of business operations, many haven't had the opportunity to deeply contemplate these diverse strategies. When exposed to this array of frameworks, they are often pleasantly surprised, realising the untapped potential and fresh perspectives they offer.

Even those predominantly engaged in domestic markets often discover fresh motivation to explore foreign markets. Module 3's teachings, including market and nonmarket strategy alignment, aligning the growth model of the target country with the company's business model and strategies and considering the three As (adaptation, aggregation, and arbitrage), serve as invaluable guides.

The Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation programme is well-designed and highly practical. Anyone who learns these concepts correctly can apply them immediately to any business. That's the beauty of learning through this programme. Another fantastic aspect of the programme is the wealth of insights you gain from your fellow cohort members. Learning doesn't come solely from professors; it also occurs through peer interactions, making it a key aspect you don't want to miss out on.

Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation