The Big Picture (6 of 7)

November 14, 2017

As I have noted, in our experience, there are usually 7 major issues involved in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit. They are

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

I have previously discussed the financial and personnel issues, guidelines , training, internal marketing, and networking issues earlier in this blog.

Several of the cases in Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, our newest book, deal with managing internal customers and their needs, as does chapter 5 in Bottom Line Competitive Intelligence. Here are a couple of the key high-level issues in that process:

  • Who are your customers? Who else should be customers?
  • What do they really need? How does that differ from what they say they need?
  • How are you helping your customers determine their needs? Small investments here can pay big dividends in the long run.
  • How good is your direct access to your customers? How can you improve that?

Also check out this past blog – Ten Things Outside CI Consultants Do Not Want to Deal With.

Toxic Environments for CI

November 7, 2017

In the past I have commented[1] on the fact that competitive intelligence cannot thrive in contexts where there is imperfect competition or an outright monopoly situation.

Now consider this observation from a recent issue of Time:

“[T]he leaders of other emerging powers – not just Russia but also democracies like India and Turkey – are following China’s lead in building systems where government embraces commerce while tightening control over domestic politics, economic competition, and control of information.”[2]

So, to the above environments where CI cannot thrive (or perhaps even function), add those situations where government is not only involved in controlling commerce, even without the presence of oligopolies and monopolies, but where it is also controlling much of the data, the raw material from which CI is developed.

“Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.” author Bruce Coville.

[1] See It Is What It Is and  Why No CI?

[2] “Advantage China”, Time, November 13, 2017, p 42.

Down is not the only way to drill

November 1, 2017

In analyzing data for competitive intelligence, we have all heard the call to “drill down”, “go deeper”, “find more detail”. And that is the right thing to do – most of the time.

Sometimes, just do what the late Isaac Asimov suggests:

“I have always found in my work…that zeroing in tightly on a particular problem is self-defeating. Why not relax and talk about something else, and your unconscious mind – not laboring under the weight of concentrated thought – may solve the problem for you.[1]

Can that work in CI analysis? Oh yes.

Let me draw your attention to a provocative piece in a recent Business Week. There the author looked at Apple’s research labs around the world. It seems the author was sitting back, (not up close), and noted that

“many of [Apple’s Inc.’s research labs] are near companies with specialties the device giant wants to develop. Curiously, a number have lost employees to Apple since it came to town.[2]

Read it, and see how looking away from the small details created the bigger picture.

[1] Isaac Asimov, Foundation’s Edge, Doubleday, New York, 1980, p. 90.

[2]  Alex Webb, Apple’s Global Web”, Business Week, October 9, 2017, p. 23. Also listen to author Alex Webb discussing this.

Maybe Someone is Paying Attention

Bloomberg Businessweek recently ran an article on Adidas’ new factory. [1] It is described as a “super factory” aimed at letting Adidas make its footwear in high-cost, developed economies, instead of contacting work out to suppliers and assemblers in China, Vietnam and other lower labor cost countries. The article, in an aside, noted that Adidas could gain an additional benefit if this project works out:

“Adidas gains the added benefit of keeping the latest trends and ideas in-house rather than sharing them with suppliers.”

Axiomatic: In competitive intelligence, the fewer people that have access to competitively sensitive data, the harder it is for competitors to gather it.

[1] “Adidas Automates to Make Shoes Faster, Bloomberg Businesssweek, October 8, 2017, p. 17-18.

The Big Picture (5 of 7)

October 17, 2017

In our experience, there are usually 7 major issues involved in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit:

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

I have already discussed the financial and personnel issues, guidelines , training  and internal marketing.

One of the cases in Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, our new book, deals with internal networking and CI, as does the more technical chapter 6 in Proactive Intelligence: the Successful Executive’s Guide to Intelligence. Here are a couple of key high-level issues:

  • Internal networking is a way, like training, to continue to bring CI to everyone’s attention. That can be critical during the start-up period of a CI program when its impact, even existence, may not be evident.
  • Networking can multiply the effectiveness of a CI team or program. It creates and maintain a quick connection to people inside of the company who may have access to critical bits of data. With networks in place, they may feel that there is someone that they can “alert”.
  • Members of the sales team can be valuable members of your network. However, it is not unusual for managers to object to this, on the basis that it “wastes” the time of the sales personnel. Do not try and make the sales force into a CI data collecting force. Rather, provide members with some help so that they feel freer to reciprocate.

Also check out  some of my past blogs, including Tag – You’re It! and 10 Commandments for DIYers.

Law Firms and CI

October 10, 2017

A local legal publication noted[1] the release of a study on competitive intelligence and large law firms. Among its findings was that “[l]aw firms are thirsty for data that could make them more competitive, but few are using it for proactive, strategic planning….”

First. I commend the full text of the report to you – it is thoughtful and enlightening. You can follow the links from the story to get it.

Second, I was taken by some of its observations:

  • 2/3rds of the firms in the study staffed the CI function with people whose background was “library or research”, while only 1/3 hired “professionals with CI background.”
  • Interestingly, about 1/3 of the firms reported that their CI teams’ ability to “connect the dots” was something in which they excelled. Hum.
  • And how about this: almost 2/3rds of the firms said that the CI teams’ work was more tactical than strategic. See anything now?

I would like to add to this some observations.

My qualifications? My background, in addition to decades in CI includes working in 3 law firms and in 2 corporate legal departments. (highest positions being Resident Counsel in the former and VP/General Counsel and in the latter). In fact, I have even written a couple of articles on CI for law firms, before it was a popular subject for discussion.[2]

One unidentified source of a drag on some CI programs is the client himself, herself, themselves:  the lawyers in the law firm themselves.

Let me explain (by generalizing overly broadly):

  • Some partners tend to possessiveness of information on “their” clients, because information is seen by them as power or at least a route to success.
  • Most associates at law firms are not heavily (or even at all) involved in business development, so CI is almost irrelevant to them. That also means that associates becoming partners will not usually understand anything about their firm’s CI process and what to expect from it.
  • Withholding some client information or access from other lawyers in the same firm is frequent, particularly when there is partner hunting/poaching by that firm and/or competing firms going on.
  • Lawyers live in world of confidentiality – they tend instinctively to give little information out (which impedes developing proper KITs and KIQs by the CI team), and, in turn, they often expect to receive little. Then, these diminished expectations mean they have less interest in becoming involved with CI.
  • Lawyers usually believe that only lawyers, or at best paralegals, can understand the law, and therefore the legal business – despite the apparent high correlation between success and the use of experienced CI people by large law firms noted above.
  • Legal research is different, very different, from CI research. Put another way, elicitation is not likely to be seen as a way to gather competitively sensitive data by those familiar only with using depositions to gather information. Also, the bulk of legal research is now done using commercial online services (LexisNexis, Bloomberg Law Westlaw), so some lawyers may have a perception that secondary research is the only way to go rather than being, well, secondary.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).

[1] Lizzy McLellan, “Report Finds Law Firms Playing Catch-Up on Competitive Intelligence”, The Legal Intelligencer, October 3, 2017.

[2] “Knowing Your Competition: Can Competitive Intelligence make your firm extraordinary?”, Legal Management, Nov.-Dec. 2011, 35-39; “Competitive Intelligence: A New Tool For Lawyers”, Legal Times, May 19, 1986.

The Big Picture (4 of 7)

Our newest book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, has several cases that highlight issues in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit. In our experience, there are usually 7 major elements involved in either process:

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

To help you see the big picture, I will deal briefly with each issue over time. I have already discussed the financial and personnel issues, guidelines and training. One of the cases in Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right highlights issues in marketing CI to employees and officers. Here are a couple of high-level issues:

  • Internal marketing of CI is critical to the development of a top CI program that supports critical decisions and has, and maintains, the support of the entire organization. Support means that the CI program has both needed time and funding on a continuing basis.
  • This requires that management provide access to all employees, particularly to senior management and the sales force, as a part of its, hopefully, enthusiastic support.
  • Marketing involves educating all employees not just internal customers, about CI and its role in decision-making at the organization. This will foster the development of cooperation from customer-facing employees, potentially a great source off raw data, and a continuing by-in by management. It also can help to block management requests that, unknowingly, might force CI data collectors to cross ethical or even legal lines.
  • Internal marketing also makes it easier to develop internal networks, something I will cover later. It encourages the generation of important bits of data from employees who “never knew that anyone was interested in that”.
  • Finally, it serves to alert all employees and officers to the existence of CI efforts being used against them, making defensive efforts easier to start and maintain.

For thoughts on related issues, check out my past blogs, including these two:

DIY and Silos

Tag – You’re It!