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.
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 personnel, guidelines, training, internal marketing, networking, customers and their needs, and products/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:
July 5, 2017
On the relationship
- “I’m not the final client for this work.” That makes doing the work harder, since the consultant is going through a filter – you. And that means no opportunity for effective pushback or digging into the end user’s real needs, as opposed to its (different) stated needs.
- “We’ll promise you more business if you’ll cut your fee.” Unless you have that authority, and there is more business in the pipeline, do not hold out this faux carrot. And don’t you think this will impact the current work? Remember the saying, “There are three things possible, but you only get two: fast, cheap, or good.”
- “Your relationship is limited to the person who signed your contract.” (This involves a sad story in which a client was fired in mid-project, and his successors initially didn’t want to pay a pending invoice.)
On the submitted bid/proposal
- “We’ll share your proposal and/or approach with other vendors.” In other words, one consultant is now working for its competitors? Increasingly, proposals are submitted to potential clients with language forbidding sharing the contents. Respect it.
- “We’re really just looking for good ideas for our own people.” Why not pay a consultant to work with your team to learn how to develop better skills and approaches?
- “You’re column fodder.” That means you need to get three bids, but want only vendor #1. The other two bidders are there to fill out the columns on the evaluation matrix. Don’t do it.
- “Your bid is a bargaining tool.” Sometimes bids are solicited on an existing piece of work to keep an incumbent “in its place” cost-wise and otherwise. See number 6 above.
- “You’re not bidding on the same scope of work as others.” It is amazing how few companies issue formal RFPs or other engagement specs for CI these days, so they are often getting competing “apples and oranges” proposals.
On fees and payments
- “We always bargain harder with small vendors.” High quality small vendors without big time “brand names” are often seen as more likely to cut fees to win work. See number 2 above.
- “We only pay on 45 (or 60 or 75) days.” When that comes from a (large) firm which requires its own customers to pay in 10-15 days net, it translates to “We ride our accounts payable to enhance our cash flow.”
April 7, 2017
You have probably heard, and even thought about, having an early warning system. Why? Well, early warning is an area where CI skills are quite valuable. However, there are some major issues that you should consider before going further.
In case you are not familiar with it, an early warning system provides – wait for it – early warning of major economic, environmental, market, and political changes impacting the organization’s businesses. In practice, it can often one of the most effective way of communicating strategic intelligence to senior management.
Let’s look at a few issues that are not readily evident:
- Commitment – By commitment, I am referring to both time and money, and most importantly, participation by management. Without active management participation, an early warning system is just a set of musing given to management. Participation includes the commitment to act on it.
- Bottom line – It usually takes a long time to see the results of an effective early warning system. And, they are often impossible to quantify. What is the bottom line impact of avoiding the future entry of a new firm into part of your market? How much would you have lost if you did not launch a new product defensively?
- Verify results – This is related to the bottom line problem. Avoiding problems (or crises), beginning reacting months earlier than you might, and the like often serves to lower risks and potential costs. But, again, you may not be able to see that. Take for example, the parallel of a watchman on a merchant ship in World War II. He is scanning the horizon, looking for anything that could pose a threat to the ship, its crew, passengers, and/or cargo. He spots what he thinks might be the periscope of a submarine. On being told, the captain begins evasive maneuvers, which costs time and fuel, moves the crew to combat quarters, which reduces their ability to do ordinary work, and calls for naval and air assistance to hunt down the sub, which ties them up. The result – the ship is not attacked by a sub. But, was a successful attack going to happen? The captain will never know.
- Changing the future – Well-done early warning systems can make it impossible to measure, or even to verify, results. Why? Because, first, they are talking about trends (probabilities), not hard facts. And second, by responding to a warning, they may have changed the predicted future. Think about it.
I am not saying that an early warning system is not valuable. Shell’s experience seems to show that it can be extraordinarily valuable. What I am saying is that if you do this, do it right, control expectations, get by-in early and often. Then, effective early warning will product its real benefits: doing many things better, faster, and smarter while reducing risk and the exposure to risk and avoiding the many traps of short-term thinking and actions.
March 17, 2017
One thing that those of us producing competitive intelligence strive for is accuracy. Well, to be more precise, our end users want accuracy – and can be very demanding of that. However, accuracy is a chimera.
Why? For several reasons, some independent, some inter-related:
- When we are assessing hard, current facts, such as the size of a new plant, we have a fixed target to focus on. Or do we? Do we want the square footage of the plant, its capacity, or its current production? The first is precise, the others less so. Capacity is, at best, an estimate. Change the equipment, move some around, and you change capacity. As for current production, as soon as you estimate (that word again) it, it may change. You know what I mean – the target starts or reduces a second shift the week after you finish your research and analysis.
- But not all current data is fixed. It is only fixed as of a moment in time. Take, for example, market share. What do we mean by that? What market? At what point in time or over what period? Do we also mean noting (past) trends (increases/decreases)? Does a market share that has steadily been increasing/decreasing mean that it will continue to increase/decrease? If so, why, how fast? Does it have a limit (other than 100%)?
- When we are focusing on a competitor’s short-term and long-term plans, what we are really assessing, at least in part, is the target’s intention. What does the target plan to do? Why? What will make it change its plans? How quickly can and will the target change its plans – and based on what future events?
- When we are assessing intention of a target, unless the target is an individual, we are assessing not only the intention of the CEO, but the intentions of the senior management team. Then, we must consider the ability – and willingness – of management and staff to carry out the direction of senior management. If you think that a firm moves in unison and accurately to the direction of its CEO, remember one word – bureaucracy.
- When assessing the success or failure of a target’s past actions, we must be very clear in our mind what we mean by success or failure. Is that from the target’s perspective, from my perspective, both, or neither? And what does the past have to do with the present and the future? Are the same decision-makers still in the same positions? Is the target facing the same competitive forces now as then?
- When assessing the likelihood of success or failure of a target’s current actions, we are dangerously close to the realm of conjecture. When assessing the likelihood of success or failure of a target’s intended actions, we have crossed over.
These are meant to show that the issues facing CI are squishier than your end users may understand. I am not saying that CI cannot contribute to a better understanding of what you and your firm face. It can and does. But it does that by reducing uncertainty. Any effort to force CI to deliver certainty will doom it to failure.
March 9, 2017
The other day, I was talking with Lora Bray, a friend who is a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), about CI and special librarians. The reason for the conversation is a new book Carolyn Vella and I have coming out. But more on that at a later date.
The issue we talked about is that while some special librarians are interested in competitive intelligence, there is not yet a lot of movement of them from that career to into one in CI. And that is too bad for them – and bad for business as well. Why? Let me explain.
In developing CI, several skills, including research experience and discipline, analytical skills, and industry experience, are very useful. Trained librarians possess a good measure of them:
They are trained in secondary research, probably far better than those of us whose “training” consisted in researching a couple of college papers years ago. And secondary research is not only a key element in providing CI, it is an important predicate to doing effective primary, particularly elicitation, interviews.
They have developed analytical skills. Effective secondary research requires analytical skills in defining the research scope, including “push backs”. It then requires analysis to separate useful and critical data from a mass of trivia and repetitive data.
What they usually lack are two other key elements: primary research training and industry specific experience.
By training in primary research, I mean in managing and conducting interviews, particularly elicitation interviews. But that training can be acquired relatively quickly.
By Industry specific experience, I mean line experience and/or formal education on the technology underlying an industry or product. But, that requirement is overly preferred in hiring. You don’t believe me? Look, for example, at the giant consulting firms that senior management often hires – how many of the associates, managers, and partners ever designed, made, serviced, or sold your specific product (or service)? Hint: not very many. Especially with respect to CI, industry specific experience is way over-valued. In my experience, an internal CI staffer should, ideally, have both CI experience and industry experience. But, the balance, when that is not available, and it usually is not, should lean heavily towards more CI experience rather than more industry specific experience. Why? You can usually learn about the basics of an industry or product faster than you can master doing effective, ethical CI. And, almost every industry is today facing technological and cultural changes, and even upheavals, which will put a greater value on being able to learn than having learned.
So, if you are adding to your CI team – formal or informal – look at the librarians. And librarians – look at CI.
February 16, 2017
I was reading the most recent issue of Successful Meetings. Why, you ask? Because if I am going to work – or protect – a meeting, conference or trade show with respect to CI, I should how they are being run and how they are changing.
Anyway, it had an interesting article for people who are being told that they are now doing meeting planning in addition to everything else they do. Taking it as inspiration, here are a couple of tips for DIYers who are (suddenly) told “Well, you know all about competitive intelligence, so why don’t you provide us with some in addition to everything else you are doing”:
- Be prepared to get going; While this may not have happened to you yet, the operative word here is “yet”. While it is not always true for CI teams that “If you build it, they will come”, when you are doing your own CI, eventually others will (a) figure out that you are doing this, and (b) some will realize that the CI is adding value. Then, it is but one step to being drafted, so prepare for it. Look at the next 8 tips and see where you stand now with respect to each one.
- Take advantage of training and education:: Take a hard look at any groups of which you are a member. Then check on groups that your organization or other employees are members of. Have their newsletters and magazines dealt with CI? If so, start checking the latest issues. Have they offered sessions on CI or related areas (strategic intelligence, war gaming, scenario development, long-range scanning)? If so, see if you can take a webinar of a past session. Also, check the agendas of their forth-coming meetings for sessions on CI that you can attend. There are also a variety of groups that run formal training programs and even annual sessions on CI. Among them are the Institute for Competitive Intelligence and the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence. Check them and others out.
- Stay current: There are numerous websites and blogs – such as this one – that you should tap into for current developments and discussions about CI. Staying current on CI is now a part of your job – it should have been at least a small part already.
- Identify internal and external partners: Here is where your networking is key. If you already have an internal network, use it. If not, start developing one now. Look around for potential external partners for your future research: think trade associations, affiliates and subsidiaries, academic research centers, suppliers, customers, and government agencies.
- Find out the reasons for the assignments: To do your best CI research and analysis, you must know not only what they (whoever they are) want, but, more importantly, what they intend to do with it. Knowing that, you may often be able to suggest an alternative line of research or research target that is faster or cheaper or more reliable.
- Show ROI: It helps to try to show the return on your investments (ROI) in CI. For example, if your analysis shows that a planned new venture is very, very risky, casually note that the15 hours of work you did will save the organization $6.2 million it would have spent on going forward with a failing venture.
- Be smart about non-ROI statistics: ROI is not all that your CI can provide and not the only thing to point to. How about time? If your CI doubles the time that your organization now has to respond to a competitor’s forthcoming new pricing regime, when compared with the last time this happened, tell people.
- Improve your existing skills and add new ones: You already are doing some CI so you have some basic knowledge – I hope. So first, work on improving your existing third-party skills, such as working with others, managing meetings, and communication, both written and oral. Good CI that is not properly communicated is not useful or likely to be used. Then work on adding new skills such as interviewing third parties, team management, improved technical expertise on what your firm does, and working meetings and conventions.
- Promote your value and CI’s value: Do not be shy about what you are doing and what value the (new) CI is bringing to your team/organization. Diplomatically use phrases such as “Our blind spots were…”, “Filling in the following gaps…”, “Providing us with an opportunity we were not fully aware of…”, and “Avoiding a previously unexpected threat…”.
 Andrea Doyle, “Planning for Double Duty”, Successful Meetings, February 2017, pp. 12-15.
 In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the faculty of ICI.
 For more on this, see John J. McGonagle and Carolyn M. Vella, Bottom Line Competitive Intelligence, Praeger 2002.