No One is Right All of the Time

September 9, 2017

The hurricane activity of the past weeks in the US is still sinking in for all of us, in particular the many residents of the damaged areas. They are in our prayers.

But for those of us in CI, there is a lesson.

The forecasters, private and governmental, were unable to predict the track of either Irma or Harvey more than 48 hours out. Yet they were working with dozen, perhaps hundreds of programs, vast amounts of computer power, decades of records, and real time data from space, hurricane penetrating aircraft, and ocean buoys.

Why?

Because real life is never 100% predicable. Keep that in mind when you find that you cannot totally predict a competitor’s reactions to your new product launch – or whatever.

Close enough is as much as humans (and computers) can come in the real world.

 


The Big Picture (2 of 7)

September 5, 2017

Our new book (by our, I mean Carolyn M. Vella, The Helicon Group’s Founding Partner and my significantly better half), Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, is a powerful “how-to-do-it-better” book, that uses real-world case studies (carefully masked) to expose common CI challenges and presents a simple methodology for spotting problems, understanding how to rectify each problem, and testing and validating that the changes are working.

Several of the cases there show the issues in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit. In our experience, there are typically 7 major elements involved in that process: financial and personnel, guidelines, training, internal marketing, networking, customers and their needs, and products and feedback. It is important to see the big picture, so I will deal briefly with each issue over the next weeks.

I have already discussed the financial and personnel issues.

Here, I will comment on key guideline issues. By guidelines, I mean both ethical/legal standards and mission statements/job descriptions.

Very few CI teams, or even individual analysts, are ready to issue a statement setting out the ethical principles that will govern the new process. Too many just default to adopting the Code of Ethics of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), either by reference or by just copying the text.

Do this only as a stopgap. The best way to do heave the right ethical and legal standards is to work with your company’s legal counsel, inside or out, to develop this. That way, it will reflect what you will be doing, as well as the environment in which you will be doing it. Doing it this way has the additional benefit of educating your legal counsel about competitive intelligence, so that they understand it better, to serve you and your company better.

The same is true of mission statements and job descriptions. The more specific, the better. These should be developed in cooperation with your internal clients. That will also help advance the likelihood that they will use what you provide.

This is not the first time I have commented on these issues. Check out my past blogs, including these, for more:

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 1)

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 2)

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 3)


Competitive Intelligence and the Circular Economy

August 28, 2017

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog dealing with the “circular economy”. Since then, I have done some digging into this topic and conclude that (a) the circular economy is, not might be, coming, and (b) competitive intelligence as we know for firms that are a part of this will have to undergo major changes as a result.

One consequence is that I have written a longer piece on the subject, which you might enjoy reading. A brief extract may interest you:

“The rise of the CE [Circular Economy] will necessarily have major impacts on competitive and strategic intelligence. They appear to fall into 4 broad categories:

  • A change in the stature of CI.
  • A reduction in [CI] employment opportunities with firms in the CE, while increasing it in firms outside of the CE.
  • Greater opportunities for those trained in defensive intelligence.
  • A need for new skills and education for intelligence personnel working in the CE.”

The full paper is “Ten years gone, holdin’ on, ten years gone ”: The Circular Economy and the Evolutionary Trajectory of the Competitive Intelligence Profession.


The Big Picture (1 of 7)

August 18, 2017

Our new book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, is a powerful “how-to-do-it-better” book, the first guidebook on competitive intelligence that uses case studies to provide behind-the-scenes insights into how professionals can improve competitive intelligence processes. This unique approach uses real-world case studies (carefully masked) to expose common CI challenges and presents a simple methodology for spotting problems, understanding how to rectify each problem, educating others to bring about improvements in a process, and testing and validating that the changes are working.

Several cases there show the problems and issues in creating a new competitive intelligence unit. In our experiences, and by our, I mean Carolyn M. Vella, The Helicon Group’s Founding Partner and my significantly better half, there are typically 7 major elements involved in that process: financial and personnelguidelines, training, internal marketing, networking, customers and their needs, and products and feedback. For those who would like to transition from DIY to full-time status, or for those who are already there, it is important to see the big picture so I will deal quickly with each over the next weeks.

The first element I will comment on is key financial/personnel issues.

From the financial end, a CI unit, even if it is made up of only one person, requires a commitment to proper funding for the unit, including for training, internal marketing, and networking. Ideally, the CI unit should have its own stable funding. That allows management to compare costs with results and for the unit to plan further ahead than one quarter.

From the personnel end, some one must be in charge, even if that is only one of his/her duties. Team responsibility means no accountability. And, the individual in charge must have direct, personal access to all internal customers, particularly the most senior or important. Filtering their needs often means failure to deliver. Also, once this is a full-time position, the individual there must be able to see a career path after CI. No clear path up means looking for a way out.

This is not the first time I have commented on these issues. Check out these past blogs for more on this:

Likelihood of Success

Success is Fleeting

Another look at problems with competitive intelligence (part 1)


Social Media

August 8, 2017

Recently, I participated in a survey conducted by Contify – Is social media a source of Market Intelligence on companies? The firm sent me access to the results and has allowed me to share them with you. It is a fascinating study. You can access the document here.

Let me make a few comments on it and share a couple of my own observations on social media.

One of the key take-aways for me was that using social media to do research for CI assignments and\or to conduct regular monitoring can be useful. My observation is that you have to be willing to invest a lot of time, seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack. But, if it is there, it is worth it (in retrospect).

Another key take-away is Contify’s conclusion that social media tends to be more valuable when you are targeting a smaller firm:

“For a given period, small companies have lesser number of business updates to share, as compared to large companies. However, small companies are more likely to announce an important business update on social than release a press releases in traditional media.”

My experience is that when you are targeting a family-owned business, which tends to be smaller, social media can be quite helpful by identifying who is who, and by providing photos of everything from other family members to the inside of factories to new products to key customers. But, again there is the time issue.

Finally, always keep in mind that what you are seeing is only what someone else wants you to see – well, not specifically you, but rather some other audience or audiences. Consider LinkedIn. I am sure you can understand how useful LinkedIn can be to identify key personnel, to spot the occasional brag that can uncover new facts, and to identify potential interviewees.

But consider that each LinkedIn profile is written by that very person. So? I can tell you, from experience, that just because a profile says that person is working as the VP of Whatever Company may not be true, or at least current. People who have been laid off sometimes keep the page content static to enhance their chances of attracting a recruiter or otherwise improve their job-hunting chances.

The same is true for all social media – particularly messages and pictures on Facebook, as well as videos on YouTube. With all social media, while you may think it is a look inside a target, remember, seeing is not always believing.


Really Think About It

August 1, 2017

There is something going on in California (where else?) that could deeply impact competitive and strategic intelligence research. Here is a short summery, taken from a local Internet source:

“A San Francisco tech startup [HiQ Labs] is seeking to enjoin LinkedIn from restricting it from accessing public profile information…. [HiQ says it] collects and analyzes public profile information on LinkedIn to provide clients with insights about their employees. [HiQ] alleges LinkedIn denied it access to the public member profile portions of its website citing [a variety of federal and state laws]. [HiQ] alleges LinkedIn users’ public profile data belongs to the users and not [LinkedIn], but [LinkedIn] asserts it needs to protect member data.”

The case has already had one hearing where Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Laurence Tribe has reportedly argued that LinkedIn is violating HiQ’s constitutional rights by blocking access to LinkedIn’s public sites.

The case is much more complex than this, but it has great potential. Just ask yourself, how would you react if you found that LinkedIn, FaceBook, YouTube, and Twitter all blocked access by people or businesses they suspected were gathering competitive intelligence (or marketing leads or head-hunting data or political sentiments or …).

Your thoughts?


It Is What It Is

July 18, 2017

Since 1990’s, we have heard about disruptive innovation leading to disruptive competitors. Of course, most of those talking about it don’t know what it is. Even the creator of the concept, Clayton Christensen, sadly notes

“Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied…. There’s another troubling concern: In our experience, too many people who speak of ‘disruption’ have not read a serious book or article on the subject. Too frequently, they use the term loosely to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever it is they wish to do. Many researchers, writers, and consultants use ‘disruptive innovation’ to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.[1]

But back to disruptive competition. This is not the first effort, but a major recent effort, to dissect the concept of competition and to explain how the marketplace really works. Consider these: predatory competitor, imperfect competition, and even Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction. They are all efforts to detail situations which veer from “perfect” competition to explain economic behavior.

Now, recall that perfect competition presumes the presence of perfect information, including information on competitors (bet you were wondering when I would get to that). When you drill down, you will find that what they all have in common is that there is less than perfect information. It may be about markets, competitors, technology, consumers, trends, etc. In other words, until you get to a monopoly situation, where there is NO competition, competitors suffer when they lack perfect, or even good, actionable intelligence on these key topics.

The lesson: those companies lacking ongoing intelligence efforts, whether centralized, DIY or both, are likely to be the victims rather than the beneficiaries of disruptive/imperfect/predatory/destructive competition!

[1] Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?”, Harvard Business Review, December 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/12/what-is-disruptive-innovation.