Who can you trust?

October 31, 2013

A recent column in The Economist, “How science goes wrong”, discloses a very disturbing situation.v Discussing academic scientific and technical papers, The Economist observed in that

     “too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are either the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis.… [For example, Amgen researchers] found they could reproduce just six of 53 ‘landmark’ studies in cancer research.… A leading computer scientist frets that three quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000 – 10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties.”

We already know that just because something is on the Internet does not make it true.

For the conscientious CI researcher analyst, this disturbing situation means that reliance on published scientific and technical papers as a source for raw data for your competitive intelligence analysis is now also a dubious practice. As the same columnist also reported,

     “one in three researchers knows of a colleague who pepped up a paper [to enhance the odds of getting it published] by, say, excluding inconvenient data from results ‘based on a gut feeling’.”

Now, must we add to the Internet mantra that  “the fact that just because something is in a published research paper does not make it true”?

Are there any lessons to be learned from the recent federal budget negotiations?

October 24, 2013


At this point, I’m assuming you are probably sick and tired of hearing all of the discussions/arguments about the US federal budget negotiations, the fiscal cliff, the shutdown of the federal government, kicking the can down the road, sequesters, who won/lost, and the like. I know I am.

But for an analyst of any sort, there is a lesson that can be extracted from this.

You have to recognize that this is not the first time this type of thing happened, and it appears that it will not be the last. When this round began, some commentators and reporters seemed to regard this as a brand-new phenomenon, but over time, more experienced analysts and commentators began to draw comparisons with similar events in the 1990s and even before.

What became clear is that the Congress and the President have gone through this particular “process” before – many, many times. What is interesting is that there are some political analysts who, when this all began, accurately predicted the final outcomes. One of them, and I’m sure not the only one, is Bob Beckel, a longtime Democrat party consultant, and a contributor to Fox News as a member of The Five and in other ways.

His years of experience in dealing with national politics, and his knowledge of the people and processes involved, enabled him, early on, to predict what became the eventual outcome, including when and how the entire process would finally be resolved.

For the CI analyst, the lesson is that if you are looking at an area where there is some question about the intentions and capabilities of parties, but where there are existing commentators and/or analysts, consider what they are saying. But do not just look for the best reasoned, the most famous, or the most fact-based conclusion. Look at the commentator’s overall track record. Have any of these people made predictions or estimates in the past? If so, how successful where they?

It is easy to make predictions. It is rare to be held to them. For example, many years ago one media analyst reviewed a political talk show where the participants were encouraged to make predictions, very specific predictions, about political events in the near future. As I recall the results, none of the regular participants had an accuracy level exceeding 50%[1].


[1] For an amusing current look at this subject, visit http://www.pundittracker.com/ .

A Name Worthy of a James Bond film?

October 15, 2013

 In the most recent issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, there is a fascinating article about Amazon.com, “The Secrets of Bezos”. It includes in it a particularly strange statement:

     “Amazon has a clandestine group with the name worthy have a James Bond film: Competitive Intelligence.”

The name “Competitive Intelligence” is worthy of James Bond film? Are you kidding me?

James Bond films have much better names than something as mundane as “Competitive Intelligence”. How about an organization such as SMERSH, from the Russian for death to spies? Or SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion)? How can “Competitive Intelligence” compare with Auric Goldfinger, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Le Chiffre, or Dr. No? Not at all well (unfortunately).

Perhaps the author meant that the concept of “competitive intelligence” is worthy of a James Bond film. No, I doubt that. Tracking how fast and well competitors fill online orders is too plain for a series starring a character with a “license to kill”, working for a character known only as “M”.

How about the fact that one company is checking out its competitors on a regular basis? If the author really means that “competitive intelligence” is such an unusual term for that reason, then we have a major problem – as a character in the movie “Hud” once noted “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

You see, competitive intelligence has been around as a business and academic subject since the 1980s. Since the organization of SCIP, Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, formerly the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, in the 1980s, many, many books have been written on the subject in several languages,. And, thousands of workshops and seminars on competitive intelligence have been held  around the globe by organizations ranging from those covering pricing to strategic planning, and libraries to industrial security.

If anything, a lack of familiarity with “competitive intelligence” may reflect the failure by those of us involved with competitive intelligence to advance its visibility on institutional basis. There is much hard work that is being done by businesses, and based on the article, very effective work, by those involved full time with competitive intelligence and those using competitive intelligence as an effective tool. We just need to do more.


Why do I have to do it myself?

October 10, 2013

 A recent article in The Economist, “Analyze This” (September 21, 2013), talked about pressures in the securities industry on equity research. There, declines in commission levels have made the providers of equity research seek ways to reduce their cost while still maintaining the benefit for clients. At the same time, alternative sources of equity research are beginning to grow, as the article describes, “untainted by the conflicts of interest that the devil banks offering research on clients”.

In addition, the article reports that hedge funds are now using “nontraditional” research, such as on the ground evaluations or satellite intelligence to track the progress of mineral extraction projects in order to evaluate them.

While banks are under pressure to cut the research they provide to their clients, the clients’ demand for such research appears not to have abated. What is that mean for you? It means that if your company has relied on using research from your banks about actual and potential competitors, it is likely that your firm will either (A) the receiving less of this research, and/or (B) may have to pay for it. That in turn means that you may be dragged into supplementing or even replacing this kind of research.

Welcome to your new career

How do I track my own competitors?

Recently, I met with the senior management of a company seeking to get more actively involved in competitive intelligence. During our conversations, I was asked a most unusual question. A senior officer of the company said, “Well, how do you keep track of your competitors?”

I have to say that, in all the time I have been involved with competitive intelligence, no one, that is no one outside of our own firm, has ever asked me that specific question.

Let me give you a couple of things that I mentioned that I find useful:

  •          Attend at least one national conference of an organization that includes competitive intelligence within its focus.
  •          Review announcements of all association conferences that may cover CI. By review, I mean look at the list of all speakers, and every topic covered.
  •          Receive and read announcements of chapter meetings from associations that cover my discipline, CI, even if I may not be able to attend meeting. It lets me know what my competitors are doing. Where I can, I attend the meeting.
  •          Get on any emailing list my competitors set up.
  •          Check my competitors’ websites on a regular basis.
  •          Network with groups of professionals in the CI business and with those adjacent to this business. There, listen. I repeat, listen.

I will not mention the others we use because those are more competitively sensitive. But, you can see that even in the competitive intelligence business we have to do our own competitive intelligence.