Strategy and the Internet

February 4, 2008 — Leave a comment

When I teach my course in E-Business Strategy here at Biola, one of the first readings we do is Michael Porter’s Strategy and the Internet. Michael Porter is a professor at Harvard Business School who has developed a reputation as the guru of “competitive advantage”. This classic of business strategy, published in the Harvard Business Review in March, 2001, is a bit dated but still a great starting point for understanding how businesses should plan their Internet strategy.

This article makes several key points regarding the use of the Internet for strategy, and several are useful for us as we look to develop a strategy for Internet ministry. The first of these points that I want to consider is the idea of having a strategy for Internet use at all. As Porter points out in this paper:

Even well-established, well-run companies have been thrown off track by the Internet. Forgetting what they stand for or what makes them unique, they have rushed to implement hot Internet applications and copy the offerings of dot-coms…And many established companies, reacting to misguided investor enthusiasm, have hastily cobbled together Internet units in a mostly futile effort to boost their value in the stock market.

Porter is very critical of firms who do not consider their overall organizational strategy before determining how to use the Internet. Instead, he says, companies need to understand who they are and then use the powerful tools provided by the Internet to enhance that strategy. He gives six principles of strategy (taken from one of his previous papers), several of which are applicable for ministries, which I summarize here:

  1. Know the goals for your organization. This is the starting point. For businesses, the goal is sustained profitability. For your ministry, what is the goal?
  2. Understand that there will be trade-offs, you cannot do everything. What are you good at? What shouldn’t you be doing? What makes your ministry distinctive?
  3. The activities of your organization should be mutually reinforcing. Does everything “fit”?
  4. Have a continuity of direction. Do not continually reinvent yourself or you will only confuse those to whom you minister.

Does your ministry have a strategy for their use of the Internet? Are you using the Internet to enhance what your organization does, or was it quickly put up as a way to just “get on the net”? This is the starting point for effective Internet ministry. I will continue to examine Porter’s paper and how it applies to Internet ministry in future posts.


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Online ministry researcher and educator. Associate Professor and Director of Innovation for the Crowell School of Business at BIola University. Author of Ministry in the Digital Age.

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