This research finds that Christian leaders have an advantage when developing a competitive advantage strategy, especially a strategy that focuses on the incorporation of business analytics throughout an organization. This research offers several arguments to support this claim, each corresponding to an interrelated set of three select but core components of developing, deploying, and sustaining a successful competitive advantage strategy and the associated improved culture. The three components include strategic planning, the decision-making processes it is intended to support, and designation and execution of projects or initiatives (including the utilization of resources). The first argument presented explores the impacts of the fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) and the requirements these impacts impose upon organizations, namely in the process of strategic planning. The second argument provided states that strategic planning supports improved decision making, and that improved decision making is a strategic advantage for any organization. The third and final argument in this research focuses on the improvement of a nested critical decision that occurs in many if not all organizations – the selection of projects coupled with resource utilization. Resources in this case refers to capital, people, technology, and the skillsets and talents of individual workers (and leaders) as well. This research also finds that secular sources, both historical and contemporary, may provide helpful instruction and content for many leaders who are striving to achieve this competitive advantage. It is Christian leaders, however, not secular leaders, who maintain a distinctive advantage in the knowledge and direction God provides throughout the Holy Scriptures regarding several of the core components of developing, deploying, and sustaining a successful competitive advantage strategy.
Regarding the Christian Strategic Advantage
“Becoming proactive in developing an analytics culture can provide a competitive advantage” (Haywood & Mishra, 2019). Christian leaders have an advantage when developing a competitive advantage strategy (and in all other aspects of their lives as well). Throughout the Holy Scriptures and specifically in 1 Peter, Christian leaders are instructed and encouraged, or more to the point, directed to be responsible stewards of God’s Word and His gifts and to use these gifts to “serve one another” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, 1 Peter 4:10). These gifts are diverse and described throughout the Bible, and they include service, teaching, and leading. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who leads, with zeal” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Romans 12:6-8).
These particular blessings, leading, teaching, and serving, support three select but core components of developing, deploying, and sustaining a successful competitive advantage strategy and the associated improved culture. The three components include strategic planning, the decision-making processes it is intended to support, and designation and execution of projects or initiatives (including the utilization of resources) at the tactical or ground level.
Challenges abound in the contemporary business environment. “The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) demands an automated business process with ubiquitous digitization, i.e., a technology that can narrow the gap between human and system” (Ahmed & Pathan, 2019, p. 236). New processes, methods, and technologies have enabled rapid response times (increased velocity) and expanded the concept and scale of the business network including the volume of competitors. To become or remain competitive, “we must plan ahead and fight radical changes with integrated radical actions” (Ahmed & Pathan, 2019, p. 238). Enter strategic planning, and specifically, strategic planning that integrates business analytics (BA) with the culture and the functional framework of the organization.
This type of planning and preparation requires a simple high-level or vision-based focus. “The overarching objective is to integrate BA into the business strategy” in order “to improve performance in the marketplace” (Bartlett, 2013, p. 116). However, achieving or manifesting this vision requires a targeted emphasis on the critical characteristics that frame and support the plan. “Three indispensable characteristics and features are needed to design the skeleton on Industry 4.0…decentralization (autonomous manufacturing and transparent transactions), technology (assists workers and digitizes machines, products, and services), and compatibility (sensors, devices, and work force)” (Ahmed & Pathan, 2019, p. 241).
Individually, these features may be described as separate themes or goals in the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) or other strategic planning approaches. But it is the combination of these attributes - decentralization, technological enhancements, and streamlined system integration – that supports improved data storage and flow or accessibility, improved accuracy and workflow, and improved worker user experience and system-level communications. These are features of a competitive advantage strategy, and Christian leaders are called, instructed, and supported by God to engage in the planning process, and to do so with vigor. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Proverbs 16:9). Christian leaders are reminded to be meticulous and patient in their planning. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Proverbs 21:5). They are also called to perform this (and other) task(s) with zeal and enthusiasm. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Ecclesiastes 9:10).
This specific type of planning, strategic planning for the incorporation of data analytics into an organization’s strategic plan as a competitive advantage, also requires an understanding regarding the functional- or stove-pipe cross-cutting nature of BA. “Data analytics does not belong to one business discipline; it belongs to them all” (Haywood & Mishra, 2019). Analytical capabilities, including technologies, should not belong to a single department, office, or functional area. Data analysis represents a system- or organization-wide advantage, and to fully exploit this gain the capability must be integrated vertically and horizontally within the plan and throughout the organization. “The interactions between perspective(s) and business strategy happen through multiple vertical and horizontal connections within the new BSC strategy map. The result is value creation reflected in a range of strategic impacts” (Massingham et al., 2019).
These strategic impacts may be realized vertically, i.e., ascending or descending through the organization’s management strata, and horizontally, i.e., across different departments or even to external partners. But the purpose of the plan is to achieve better results through better decision making. “The plan will provide a strategy for competing on analytics” and “needs to be thorough enough to accommodate the pace of decision making and flexible enough to address unanticipated needs” (Bartlett, 2013, p. 115).
Improved decision making is a strategic advantage. What does improved decision making look like and how can it be achieved? The answer is simple: through the application of data analytics. “Data analysis should be applied deliberately to simplify the information in order to avoid brain-dead decision making or guessing” (Bartlett, 2013, p. 55). The question becomes: how can business leaders evaluate and achieve better judgment?
Speed is important, but quality is, too. “We need to think about how we make a viable analytics-based decision faster” while also focusing on the quality of the decisions made (Bartlett, 2013, p. 132). Analytics provides a distinct advantage here. “Statistical review is the major force in continual improvement. It “enhances and ensures the quality of the current decision but also looks forward to improving future decision-making performance” (Bartlett, 2013, p. 132, 133). BA can be employed as a strategic advantage in one very important decision organizations make on a repeated and regular basis – selecting the right projects.
Project Selection and Resource Utilization
Project selection may present considerable challenges for leaders in an organization. In the near-term, business leaders may “struggle between selecting projects that are profitable and projects that are important for their long-term strategy. BA can play a significant role in easing such decisions. Analytics can be leverage(d) to convince teams and support leaders in decision-making” (Zamani et al., 2021). In the long-term, BA-based project selection can “prove to investors and shareholders that the strategy is anchored to data and thus less risky” (Zamani et al., 2021). Simply stated, the decision to use facts, typically in the forms of data and analytics, is the base decision business leaders need to make to improve the speed and quality of all subsequent decisions. Christian leaders have an advantage in this endeavor because similar guidance is presented within the Holy Scriptures.
Christian leaders are instructed to use facts in their planning and decision-making processes, even where investments are concerned. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Luke 14:28). The project selection process includes project or initiative identification, definition, and ultimately, selection.
At a tactical level, the seemingly universal proclamation from organizations is “to search for projects with high Return on Investment (ROI)” and “to run analytics like a profit center” (Bartlett, 2013. P. 117, 121). This is logical and is taught through methodologies including Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and others. Christian leaders have additional advantage in that they also are directed in Matthew 25 to be responsible with the resources, i.e., talents, the Lord has provided. Jesus tells of a master and his three workers. “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Matthew 25:15). The workers handled the talents differently, two with confidence and success, and one with fear and failure (English Standard Version Bible, 2001). In Matthew 25, the master rewarded the savvy workers with his praise and increased responsibility while he reprimanded and fired the third worker (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Matthew 25:21, 23, 26).
These lessons (the parables) are specific to the Christian faith and afford Christian leaders the advantage of timeless, divine, and in many cases, common-sense guidance for success in life (and business). In this instance, the combination of Scriptural passages communicates the importance of effective project selection and resource utilization, and closing the loop, the Parable of the Talents describes the consequences for violating this direction.
“The most important ingredient for implementing change is a strong, confident advocating leadership” (Bartlett, 2013, p. 126). Christian leaders have an advantage when developing a competitive advantage strategy, especially a strategy that incorporates business analytics. In addition to the secular information and instruction available regarding organizational management and the requirements and effects (costs, risks, and benefits) of implementing a data analytics culture, Christian leaders have access to and (hopefully) knowledge of the divine guidance and commands pertaining to this same subject. Christians also have confidence in the Lord’s love and provision and are reminded throughout the Scriptures that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Matthew 6:8).
The combination of the divine and secular sources available to Christian leaders provides a holistic perspective regarding the development, deployment, and sustainment of a successful competitive advantage strategy and the associated improved culture. This better enables Christian leaders to successfully pursue three select components of this endeavor including strategic planning, the decision-making processes it is intended to support, and designation and execution of projects or initiatives (including the utilization of resources).
Ahmed, M., & Pathan, A. (2019). Data analytics. CRC Press. https://doi.org/10.1201/9780429446177
Bartlett, R. (2013). A practitioner's guide to business analytics: using data analysis tools to improve your organization’s decision making and strategy. McGraw-Hill.
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). ESV Online. https://esv.literalword.com/
Haywood, M. E., & Mishra, A. (2019). Building a culture of business analytics: a marketing analytics exercise. The International Journal of Educational Management, 33(1), 86-97. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEM-03-2018-0107
Massingham, R., Massingham, P. R., & Dumay, J. (2019). Improving integrated reporting. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 20(1), 60-82. https://doi.org/10.1108/JIC-06-2018-0095
Zamani, E. D., Griva, A., Spanaki, K., O'Raghallaigh, P., & Sammon, D. (2021). Making sense of business analytics in project selection and prioritisation: insights from the start-up trenches. Information Technology & People, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print). https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-09-2020-0633