Freedom (?) of Information

June 21, 2018

Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek published an interesting piece on US immigration policy[1]. In it were the details of a dispute between ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a “small research group at Syracuse University”.

That dispute involves ICE records dealing with deportations and detainers. After providing this data to TRAC under the FOIA (US Freedom Of Information Act), ICE stopped last year.

Its reason? The “records TRAC has asked for don’t exist in the form requested and [ICE] says producing responses would require searching its database, a process [ICE] claims amounts to creating new records”. And ICE says that under FOIA, it is not required to create new records. So more data for TRAC.

In response, a  lawyer for TRAC asserts “That just can’t be right, because that’s basically true of all [US] government records right now.” Depending on how the litigation comes out, the FOIA may become increasingly useless to researchers, including those of us in CI.

Maybe this is just one agency out of sync, a one-off situation? No, rather it is just the gradual continuation of a long-term trend that access to government records under Federal and State law is being narrowed for any number of reasons, some good, some not so good. For example, in 2007, Carolyn Vella and I wrote “As the war on terrorism continues, we can expect that access to more and more data currently held by the government will be impacted. Most likely, it will be subject to the typical back and forth of politics.” [2]

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Or,”The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing.“

[1] “ICE’s Disappearing Data”, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 18, 2018, pp. 42-44.

[2] “Competitive Intelligence, Corporate Security and the War on Terrorism” CIO.com – Business Technology Leadership (October 30, 2007).


Emerging Problems for Elicitation Interviewers

May 30, 2018

A recent newspaper article[1] discussed the ongoing “death of voicemail”, particularly in the case of millennials. Now, I have previously pontificated on some the difficulties of communicating with millennials, Millennials and Competitive Intelligence (2 parts)[2], but this takes it to a new level.

If the trend this fascinating article describes holds, the death of voice mail will have a significant impact on competitive intelligence research’s elicitation interviews. One key element of that is that you, the researcher, are able to get access to someone you have never met, whose business email and/or personal email accounts you do not know, to talk with them.

Consider these quotes from this interesting article:

“When people leave me voice messages, I just delete them without even checking. If they want to get hold of me, they can text me.”

“This is a large generalization, but they [millennials] don’t feel that comfortable in face-to-face spoken interaction or its derivative over the phone.”

“In the last three to five years the majority of phone calls in my world are booked ahead of time, just like a meeting.”

“Fewer and fewer people are going to have that skill [talking on the phone].”

As an aside, the people and patterns described in this article do not bode well for those very millennials described therein. Why? Ok, how do you get to know new people in your own business or neighborhood or graduating class when you only respond, by email or text, to a message on your voice mail (but never listening to the voice mail), only so long as you already know that person’s phone numbers and email addresses. A very static circle, isn’t it?

I wonder what would happen if the EVP called one of these people to ask questions about a report he/she did, and never received a reply because the employee did not recognize the EVP’s cell number, so he/she just deleted the message without listening to it. Think about it.

[1] ETHAN BARON, “How the death of voicemail is changing the way we connect”, The [San Jose] Mercury News, May 13, 2018.

[2] https://diy-ci.com/2015/09/10/millennials-and-competitive-intelligence-part-1-of-2/ and https://diy-ci.com/2015/09/15/millennials-and-competitive-intelligence-part-2-of-2/.


Trend Spotting for Early Warning Systems

May 16, 2018

Question: How do you spot trends that could impact your business BEFORE you read about them in your trade publications – or worse, run head first into them.

Answer: Keep your eyes open for trends in other industries, like the rise of automation in the restaurant industry as pressures develop to increase hourly employee wages.

Let me give you four examples looking at emerging trends taken from publications I read in the same week:

  • Artificial intelligence (in the business travel industry): “Will AI Redefine Buyer-Supplier Dynamics”, Business Travel News, April 23, 2018, 22-4.
  • Commoditization in the (independent meeting planning industry): ” J.T. Long, “Preparing for a Leaner Commission World”, Smart meetings.com, May 2018, 40-42.
  • Unbundling businesses (in technology and chemicals) “World’s Greatest Leaders”, Fortune, May 3, 2018
  • Increases in lobbying costs to protect prices (in pharmaceuticals) Jay Hancock and Elizabeth Lucas:, “Drug Prices Are Increasing. So Is Big Pharma Lobbying”, Fortune, May 3, 2018, 16.

One lesson, or perhaps an underlying truth: change affects everyone, just at different times and in different ways. If you can identify what kind of wave may be coming by seeing what is happening to others, you improve your chances of spotting it earlier.


What isn’t there

May 3, 2018

Recently, I read about a new factory in a trade publication. I will not name the magazine or company because it is not relevant.

The article touted the new technology and safety of the plant, indicating that it was to replace a factory owned by the same firm that had been in the area for about 50 years. The company’s representative quoted in the article praised the firm’s long ties to the area.

At the very end, the piece noted approximately as follows:

“The company plans to fill all of the positions at the plant with employees from the closed facility.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The workers from the old plant will migrate to the new one, right? Think of reading this very closely. How? Try moving the modifier, “all of the”. It now reads:

“The company plans to fill the positions at the plant with all of the employees from the closed facility.”

But the actual quote does not mean this. Now you understand that the sentence actually means some employees at the closed plant will NOT be working in the new one. What was not said was telling you more about what is actually going on.

“Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.” Hugo Mearns


Generalist versus Specialist

April 3, 3018

What headlines in the health insurance industry! It is an industry which has traditionally looked at itself as relatively protected from outsiders. (Remember the concept of “barriers to entry”?) First, Obama Care turned the individual market upside down and may have threatened its very existence. Then, there is massive change is coming or pending due non-insurance firms including CVS, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway.

Question – did the competitive intelligence teams at the major health insurance companies foresee this sea change and warn their management? I do not know for certain, but having spent time there, I am guessing not. Why?

I think that the health insurance industry, like too many others, erroneously favors experience in the industry over CI experience/training in its CI providers, both inside and out. And that preference for industry specialist over generalist is widespread.

Let me give an example. Some time ago, a head hunter contacted me looking for a candidate to fill a slot in another “health” industry. The client’s detailed specifications required x years of direct CI experience in that industry – only. The client was willing to drop back on time in CI, but not in time in the industry. It was non-negotiable. I told the recruiter that there were not just very few people that met that standard, but in fact there was only one. And that person I knew was soon retiring. I pressed, and soon learned that the headhunter’s client was the very firm where that person worked.

I told the recruiter that I knew of many excellent candidates with extensive CI experience, but their industry experience was in related industries. The recruiter replied that the client was adamant. So, the client ultimately found no one, by ignoring more general experience in favor of specialized industry experience. Over time, the CI unit basically dissolved.

Sometimes generalists have it over specialists. Listen to the late Joseph Campbell, world-renowned expert on myths (and regarded by some as inspiring the Star Wars sagas):

“Specialization tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with. Now, the person who isn’t a specialist…sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist – and neither of them has considered the problem of what this occurs here and also there. So the generalist…gets into a range of other problems….” [1]

[1] Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, Doubleday, NY, 1988, p. 9


Social Media and CI

March 15, 2018

Science magazine recently reported on Twitter and “fake news”. To summarize, new research seems to show that falsehoods spread faster and deeper on social media than did similar postings which were accurate. Ok, so this corroborates the old saying, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” (Jonathan Swift) So what?

For those of us in CI, this should be a warning. While social media can often be a rich source for bits of data that would often not be found elsewhere, that data is not, I repeat not, automatically verified, or worse self-verifying. It should be treated as any other non-verified individual piece of data, – that is, not given credibility just because it is  coming (seems to come) from a good source.

Let’s take a small social media example: LinkedIn.com, largely a business site.

It is an open secret that an individual who has been laid off, fired, or quit a job often leaves his/her LinkedIn profile unchanged, or may even “enhance” it a bit. Why? Because of a prevailing belief that it is easier to get a job, or at least be contacted by a recruiter cruising LinkedIn, if you are (or at least appear to be) still working. Given that, how much credibility should we give to a description of what that person does (did) when we building a competitive profile on that firm? Not much, I suggest.

Recommendation: when dealing with all social media, DIStrust it (or at least remain neutral) until it is verified – hopefully through using other than social media sources. Maybe that is a little strong, but keep it in mind when you find that social media discloses something “new”, “unexpected”, or ” surprising” about a competitor.

 


More on Early Warning

February 21, 2018

Fortune magazine recently did a piece on Shell, one of the pioneers in developing and using early warning systems. At Shell, the outputs are called “scenarios”.

The article indicated that the Shell early warning team “concluded that global demand for oil might peak in as little as a decade – essentially tomorrow in an industry that plans in quarter-century increments.” The piece goes on to detail what Shell is doing: “making some big strategic bets.”

What is of interest is that the rest of the oil industry now knows what She’ll is and will be doing. That raises an interesting issue: by acting and revealing what actions Shell, a dominant force in the oil industry, will take, Shell is giving its competitors, suppliers, and customers insights into its own contributions to making the oil industry look different from today. And that is also changing the future Shell has projected. That means that, if Shell is right about its scenario, by acting and broadcasting those actions, it may, nay will, cause the future to be different from what it would be absent it’s actions.

Of course, this means that, in a decade, when Shell measures it’s accuracy in predicting the future, it may find it was wrong. But, this is because it did\could not factor in the direct and indirect consequences of its response to what was then still in the future as well as the responses of others in this business ecosystem to its responses, etc. Yet, the scenario could still be extremely invaluable, even if they cannot prove it.

Is your brain still on straight? Welcome to a brave new world.