Adapt, not just adopt

May 26, 2015

This blog is here to help you learn about competitive intelligence (CI), and what you can do with it, to enable you to do your job, whatever that is, better. While I am not going to go in depth into the history of CI, it is probably is useful for you to look at elements of its development to understand your relationship to it:

 One of the factors that helped develop CI as we know it now was its link to corporate strategy, first developed in the strategy books of Professor Michael Porter[1]. In Professor Porter’s vision, a competitive strategy is aimed at achieving a competitive advantage. Competitive intelligence is the link that enables a firm to develop that competitive strategy, which, when executed will produce a competitive advantage. Over time, CI professionals began providing CI not only on competitors’ strategy, but on their tactics; not just on macro-level issues like long-term investments, but on micro-level issues, like pricing trends and product positioning. Regardless of the targets, it was the goal to provide CI that the end-user (or customer or decision-maker) will, well, use. But, as the end-user is not the same as the intelligence collector/analyst, CI ran into a fundamental disconnect. That is, while CI, very good CI, can be provided to the end-user, there is nothing requiring the end-user actually to use it to make a decision, much less a decision utilizing that CI.

A second factor that has shaped CI was environmental scanning.  There, the goal was for business decision-makers continually to review their entire operating environment: political, economic, cultural and social, as well as competitive. Since decision-makers are in the business of making decisions, and not of constantly watching, environmental scanning quickly became something which was handed off to others to do. It serves as an early warning to decision-makers of trends, facts, or events that could adversely or beneficially impact the business[2]. Again, there is a separation of analysis from decision-making.

A third factor that helped to develop CI was its adoption by technology teams in a wide variety of industries to develop and use intelligence on competitors’ pending research and development. The goal was to help develop an understanding of where their competitors were, are, and, most importantly, will go. Technology-oriented intelligence or competitive technical intelligence (CTI) grew out of this.  It still enjoys the creativity, cross-fertilization, and intellectual stimulation that having CI professionals work directly with the decision-makers generates. It is one of the rare cases in CI where the decision-making and analysis often involve the same people.

What does all of this mean to you? It means that the tools and techniques that will enable you to produce your own CI for your consumption are out there, and have been honed by decades of work. But, also, it means that you cannot just adopt them – you have to adapt them. Why? Because, when you do your own CI, you will be the data collector, the analyst, and the end-user. But most traditional CI is premised on a reactive, two part relationship – that is, a CI professional responding to what an end-user initially identifies as a need. But, by doing this yourself, you turn CI from being reactive to being proactive. As the decision-maker, you can get what CI you need, when you need it, and then use it almost seamlessly.

[1] Porter, Michael E. 1980. Competitive Strategy. Free Press: New York; 1985. Competitive Advantage. Free Press: New York; 1990. The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Free Press: New York.

[2] Note the analogy developed by Herb Meyer, a pioneer in CI, which carries in it the implication that environmental scanning is actually part of competitive intelligence: “Like radar, a Business Intelligence System doesn’t tell the executive – the pilot as it were – what to do. It merely illuminates what is going on out there on the assumption that with good information a competent executive will nearly always respond appropriately.” (Meyer, Herbert E.  1991. Real-World Intelligence – New Edition. Grove Weidenfeld: New York., xi)

A profession? An ongoing debate

May 18, 2015

From time to time, among those of us involved with aspects of the intelligence business, there arises a discussion about whether or not intelligence, competitive, governmental, strategic, military and/or law enforcement, is or should be a true “profession”.

Not surprisingly, I have some views on some views on the subject. They come out of two areas: the fact that prior to entering competitive intelligence, I was a practicing attorney licensed in several states as well as before US Supreme Court, and that I studied and was involved in regulatory legal and economic issues in practice.

The result of these experiences and education is that my personal view of a profession is that it has at least these 5 key elements:

  • Encompassing a defined body of knowledge.
  • Having that body of knowledge transmitted through a formal educational process, which may include hands-on experience, say internships. And that educational process is licensed.
  • Requiring approved (licensed) continuing education courses as long as you are a member of the profession.
  • Being personally licensed after some standardized examination/application process.
  • Being subject to practice rules established by and discipline imposed by a body, governmental or private with some quasi-government involvement. That discipline can reach up to the removal of the ability to earn a living in that profession.

The rationales for licensing a profession vary. The most common, and often pointed to, is to assure protection of the public by assuring access to high-quality providers, particularly where the public cannot judge the quality of the providers. This is the reason that doctors are licensed – as are hair stylists. The least discussed, but perhaps the most common in operation, is to produce a quasi-monopoly, that is to limit competition. Think – well just think. In any case, one cannot practice a profession without a current license.

Between you and me, I think that there are two other reasons underlying assertions that intelligence is/should be a profession:

  • To establish some sort of prestige or cachet for what you are doing; and
  • To become entitled, under the rules of whatever organization you work for, to additional training, career advancement, or just more money.

As you can probably see, from the way I have (perhaps unfairly) framed the debate, my views are anti-profession – although to be honest, I am so used to the term “intelligence professional”, that I will keep using it, even though it is not technically accurate.

A Little Different Look at Strategy

May 8, 2015

At the recent conference, I suggested a change – a tweak if you will – in strategy development[1]. I advocated adding a risk management approach to strategy development and monitoring. Let me give you a very high level summary of that.

Specifically, I suggested using the ISO 31000 framework[2] for risk management to fine-tune and continually refresh strategy development programs. Why?

I believe that strategy development professionals can markedly enhance the value of their work product by integrating the principles and methods of risk management into developing and then monitoring global strategy.

Today, while some senior managers may be involved with strategic risk management efforts, it is usually seen as very separate from strategy development. However, using ISO 31000’s risk management principles in strategy development provides all levels of management with a proven set of powerful tools not previously used by them.

To summarize, a risk management approach provides key principles that would be useful, very useful, for every strategy development effort:

  • Identify and then assess the risk in every
  • Avoid being paralyzed by the existence/presence of risk. Risk is everywhere. You cannot avoid it.
  • Continually seek out new data, especially after decisions have been made and plans launched.
  • Evaluate your options both before and after decisions are made.
  • Continuously monitor your own actions and the risk factors that you face.
  • Use the ISO 31000 framework to fine-tune and continually refresh your strategy development and monitoring.

How do you use that ISO 31000 framework?

  • First, employ risk identification techniques to disclose threats/opportunities – this gives a new focus. This also helps prioritize actions. But, it is critical to understand a key element of this approach. “Risk” is no longer to be seen as merely the “chance or probability of loss“. It is now to be seen as “the effect of uncertainty on objectives”. What is the difference? “Risk” should now encompass positive as well as negative probabilities. In other words, uncover not just threats, but also opportunities. To do this, those in strategy development has to learn to look for early warnings out many months, even years both before and after the strategy is developed. Unfortunately, most strategy development does not usually look that far ahead. Here, incorporating strategic/competitive intelligence early warning techniques and personnel is critical[3].
  • As a part of this, the strategy development team must learn to define targets that have not emerged. In other words, strategy development does not end with the launch of the plan – it is just beginning there.
  • Third, under ISO 31000, there is a constant interface with senior management – as opposed to only with more “tactical” customers downstream. Strategy development teams should piggy-back that access and keep senior management continuously involved in defining and developing corporate responses. Compare this with the “fundamental disconnect” of most 3rd party planning – AKA command and control.

[1] This blog is based on the presentation, “Globalizing Your Strategy Process by Integrating Risk Management into Strategy Formulation and Monitoring”, I gave at the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Strategic Planning, May 7, 2015.

[2] For more on ISO 31000, see

[3] Here I tip my hat to Dr. Ben Gilad who, as far as I now, was the first to suggest a connection between competitive/strategic intelligence and strategic risk in Ben Gilad, Early Warning, AMACOM, 2004.

Changing times, changing targets

May 5, 2015

An article in the May 1, 2015 issue of Fortune, “Startups… Inside Giant Companies”[1], details efforts at huge companies like MasterCard, Coca-Cola, and General Electric to graft the “elixir of creativity” onto their multi-thousand person corporations by authorizing internal small unit “startups”.

Whether that works or not is still up in the air. Some corporate leaders already describe this as an eventuality, and praise it as being able to attract the millennials who would rather work at a startup than in a giant corporation.

For those of us involved in competitive intelligence changes like this, which impact particularly new product development, change the way our CI will have to be conducted.

It is one thing to seek to understand the research and development process, targets, and goals of a public company by analyzing the annual reports, the 10Ks, quarterly reports, public statements by senior management, patent filings, and the profiles of dozens of employees as posted on LinkedIn. It is quite another to have to determine the very existence of a 3 teams, totaling no more than 25 employees sited in 3 countries, inside a company of 100,000 employees, and then to determine not only who is on the team, but what it is likely that they are focusing on and developing.

Here, social media, including both the business ones such as LinkedIn as well as the non-business ones such as Facebook, and YouTube, will come into prominence. When you try to dissect the future business development of major competitors, you can no longer be content in the knowledge that such companies do not change direction quickly. More and more, it will be from the detail, the micro elements, and not the body of past work, and the executives supervising the work today, the macro elements, that actionable CI will be developed.

[1] Jennifer Alsever, “Startups…Inside Giant Companies”, Fortune, May 1, 2015, 33-36.