Does Anyone Actually DIY CI? (Part 1)

June 20, 2016

The short answer is yes. Now for the long answer. Fortune magazine recently published an interview with the founders of Firehouse Subs[1] which demonstrated that the simplest and (often) least expensive approaches to developing competitive intelligence can be highly effective.

The founders, Chris and Robin, discussed the 2 years of research that went into planning the first Firehouse Subs. They took a direct, DIY approach, which Robin said produced “all good information”. How?

Chris noted that he and Robin “would go around to different sub shops [their future competitors] and say ’We’re on a diet. How much meat do you use?’” That intelligence was collected because their goal was to create a restaurant where there was both quality and quantity – “double the portions others served”. And to do that, you have to know what size your competitors serve.

Robin was then a restaurant manager and asked his friends and suppliers about future competitors. One, a food-service delivery person, reportedly saved receipts from other restaurants for Robin to look at, so he could understand what their future competitors were currently purchasing and at what price. Also, “[t]he bread-delivery guy would gossip about competitors.”

Not exactly high tech, but very effective. How effective? Now, the article reports that Firehouse Subs has over 900 restaurants that did $600 million in sales (2015).

[1] “Family, Firefighting – and Hefty Sandwiches”, Fortune, June 15, 2016, interview by Dinah Eng.


Puzzle Me

June 15, 2016

In competitive intelligence, you will often hear our analysis compared to doing a jigsaw puzzle:

“One way to look at intelligence is to visualize a jigsaw puzzle. You start with many individual pieces of data that initially seem to be meaningless and unconnected. When you put them together correctly, however, they produce a picture – valuable intelligence. One key difference between intelligence and a jigsaw puzzle is that, when you deal with intelligence, you may have to remove some of the pieces and not use them”. [1]

More recently, the finance world has focused on what it calls Mosaic theory. That is, wait for it, “a research approach whereby the [financial] analyst arrives at a conclusion by piecing together bits of publicly available information.”[2]

Why the difference? Well, Mosaic theory certainly makes the analysis sound harder than doing a jigsaw puzzle, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we just use that term?

To be fair, each stresses the power of sound, well-directed analysis applied to the results of diligent and focused data collection. And remember, without those pieces, whether you call them puzzle or mosaic pieces, there is nothing to analyze.

Now, back to the names. Mosaic theory has some association with issues in the criminal law, specifically search and seizure cases and insider trading of securities. If you are really curious, here are a couple of (not very easy, but very good recent) reads[3]. Suffice it to say, let’s stick with the term puzzle, and avoid mosaic. Leave that to financial analysts and archeologists.

[1] In fact, this was already an established analogy when Carolyn Vella and I used it in The Internet Age of Competitive Intelligence, 1999, Quorum Books, p. 104.

[2] http://www.investinganswers.com/financial-dictionary/financial-statement-analysis/mosaic-theory-5306 (accessed June 14, 2016).

[3] Orin S. Kerr, “The Mosaic Theory of the Fourth Amendment”, 111 Mich. L. Rev. 311 (2012), http://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol111/iss3/1 and Allan Horwich, “The Mosaic Theory of Materiality – Does the Illusion have a future?” 43 Sec. Reg. L.J. 129 (2015) http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2397445.


What is the climate for Competitive Intelligence?

June 6, 2016

I have previously discussed situations when there may be little or no demand for CI. Let me now get into more situations where the demand for CI may become diminished.

For the first, I saw in a recent issue of Fortune an article by Geoff Colvin – “The New Allure of Going Private” (June 1, 2016). In that article, the author discussed the disadvantages of going public, and the related benefits or going (or staying) private. Along them he noted that “the many disclosures required of public companies are rich with information for competitors to study.” 1 point for staying private. Why give competitively sensitive data to your competitors if you do not have to?

Later, the author cited the case of Dell which had to release information on its losses even though it was a private company. Why? Because the rules governing public companies can slop over onto private companies:

“Private companies with publicly held debt may still have to file quarterly statements with the SEC, and if a private company wants to buy a public one, it must publish detailed internal data…”

The impact on CI? If you are private, consider staying private because you will release less competitively sensitive data. If your competitors are similarly situated, that may then create an atmosphere where all competitors in that market space see little need to develop or maintain CI capabilities, since the necessary data appears to be so hard to collect. By the way, that is not always the case.

A second situation arises out of the current state of the US economy. I have talked with many in business, and hear a common thread, particularly from those in the largest public firms. It is variously called caution, fear, reluctance, etc. It has as one of its characteristics the current positioning of many firms. The phrases used to describe that positioning include surviving, defensive, and avoiding risk. That language has replaced language such as positioning to grow faster, being more aggressive, and making more money. To put it bluntly, there is, in some cases, a loss of a sense of competing in the current economy. And, if your firm is not really competing, why, pray tell, would it feel that developing and using CI is a priority?