DIY versus Using Others

August 28, 2014

 One of the advantages you have when you’re doing competitive intelligence for your own use is that you already immersed in the problem’s origins. That is, you understand what is going on, what your needs are, and the issue that you will have to approach. If you are dealing with a third-party provider of CI, whether it’s someone down the hall or an outside private firm, you first have to brief them on what the issue is. They are not starting their work fully immersed in the issue, even if they work in the same company you do.

In the context of CI processes within a company, there is an additional issue.

Many CI teams are centralized, that is, all the members of the team work in the same office or offices, meet with each other regularly during the day and serve their internal clients from that location. This has the advantage of cross-fertilization of ideas as well as of research solutions within the CI team, but it tends to isolate the CI analyst from his or her client.

A common option is to embed CI team members with the business units that they are supporting. The idea here is that they will be, like you, swimming in the sea of day-to-day contact with the specific part of the business that they support. However, that means that they lose daily contact with their CI peers, and thus lose some of the benefits of working together.

As with governmental and military intelligence, there is no clearly better option.

In your situation as a CI DIYer, try to provide that missing cross-fertilization of CI ideas, experience, and solutions by attending meetings or webinars about CI.


Competitive intelligence and small businesses

August 20, 2014

A professional acquaintance of mine, Pascal Frion, recently forwarded me a synopsis of his thesis[1]. In his research, he concluded that CI’s traditional approach to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has failed due to its “shallowness”.

Let me give you my take on his conclusions. (What follows is how I understand his work and my reacti0ns to it).

Pascal found that there were difficulties both in initially adopting CI and in low profitability after the implementation of CI. He concludes this is due to CI’s traditional justifications, those which focus on information that is available. That approach, in his mind, holds that “it is sufficient to access, collect and analyze information to improve the situation, to innovate, to protect, to gain performance and international competitiveness.”

Pascal concludes that

“information must not be the center of the universe of CI. Stronger operational considerations need to be used, including a defocusing complex approach of the ‘action to inform oneself’, more human oriented, not starting with information monitoring.”

He suggests an approach which starts by recognizing a state which he feels explains this problem: the MIR (the Methodological Resistance to Information). In other words, CI advocates should recognize that MIR, in his view a temporary state, has developed to deal with information overload, and exists and flourishes because it “actually saves time and can provoke critical discussions”.

In other words (my words), SMEs are inherently resistant to processes, including CI, that purport to offer them more information, more data, more to do, etc. To them, and to others, CI should be offering not more, but better – better information, better data, and actionable results.

It is the role of CI’s advocates, therefore, to make their case to SMEs in terms other than merely “you need more [good] information/intelligence and CI can provide that”. Interesting.

Your thoughts?

[1] ” Genealogy of the low breakthrough of the Competitive Intelligence discourse in French Small Companies: Epistemological mistakes and operational proposals” by Pascal Frion, defended in 2012, on December 7th, at the University of Poitiers (France). This thesis is available at

Intelligence and Chess

February 27, 2014

 A recent article in Smithsonian magazine, “Kasparov’s Gambit[1]”, resurrects the age-old linkage between chess and global politics, in this case adding computer intelligence to the mix. We all know the archetype to which this refers – the chess wizard, usually but not always Russian, calculating out intricate moves on the world stage using the skills developed in playing chess.

That is all well and good, but I do not think the chess is the appropriate game analogy for people to look to for intelligence, particularly for competitive intelligence.

What do I say that? Because in chess, both sides start out equally positioned and empowered. Because in chess, there are known limits to what you can do and what you cannot do. Because in chess, often there is a third-party judges whose decisions are final. And, more importantly, in chess we know who our opponent is, even if it is a computer, and we often know all of the opponent’s past games, and knowing any more about our opponent rarely if ever increases our ability to defeat that opponent.

In competitive intelligence, it is extremely unlikely that your competitor is equal to you. In competitive intelligence, you are governed by the rules that you and your employer (or client) set, in addition to rules established by law and custom. It is never clear whether your opponent is governed by the same rules and if so, whether or not a competitor complies with them (but, usually they do). In competitive intelligence, there are no third-party judges make final decisions. And in competitive intelligence, the more you learn about your competitor and, conversely the less you can keep your competitor from learning about you, the better you will ultimately do.

So what is a good game analogy for CI? Poker, scrabble, paint ball, baseball, mahjong? Any suggestions?

[1] Smithsonian, March 2014, 21-5.

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Name Worthy of a James Bond film?

October 15, 2013

 In the most recent issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, there is a fascinating article about, “The Secrets of Bezos”. It includes in it a particularly strange statement:

     “Amazon has a clandestine group with the name worthy have a James Bond film: Competitive Intelligence.”

The name “Competitive Intelligence” is worthy of James Bond film? Are you kidding me?

James Bond films have much better names than something as mundane as “Competitive Intelligence”. How about an organization such as SMERSH, from the Russian for death to spies? Or SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion)? How can “Competitive Intelligence” compare with Auric Goldfinger, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Le Chiffre, or Dr. No? Not at all well (unfortunately).

Perhaps the author meant that the concept of “competitive intelligence” is worthy of a James Bond film. No, I doubt that. Tracking how fast and well competitors fill online orders is too plain for a series starring a character with a “license to kill”, working for a character known only as “M”.

How about the fact that one company is checking out its competitors on a regular basis? If the author really means that “competitive intelligence” is such an unusual term for that reason, then we have a major problem – as a character in the movie “Hud” once noted “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

You see, competitive intelligence has been around as a business and academic subject since the 1980s. Since the organization of SCIP, Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, formerly the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, in the 1980s, many, many books have been written on the subject in several languages,. And, thousands of workshops and seminars on competitive intelligence have been held  around the globe by organizations ranging from those covering pricing to strategic planning, and libraries to industrial security.

If anything, a lack of familiarity with “competitive intelligence” may reflect the failure by those of us involved with competitive intelligence to advance its visibility on institutional basis. There is much hard work that is being done by businesses, and based on the article, very effective work, by those involved full time with competitive intelligence and those using competitive intelligence as an effective tool. We just need to do more.


How do I track my own competitors?

Recently, I met with the senior management of a company seeking to get more actively involved in competitive intelligence. During our conversations, I was asked a most unusual question. A senior officer of the company said, “Well, how do you keep track of your competitors?”

I have to say that, in all the time I have been involved with competitive intelligence, no one, that is no one outside of our own firm, has ever asked me that specific question.

Let me give you a couple of things that I mentioned that I find useful:

  •          Attend at least one national conference of an organization that includes competitive intelligence within its focus.
  •          Review announcements of all association conferences that may cover CI. By review, I mean look at the list of all speakers, and every topic covered.
  •          Receive and read announcements of chapter meetings from associations that cover my discipline, CI, even if I may not be able to attend meeting. It lets me know what my competitors are doing. Where I can, I attend the meeting.
  •          Get on any emailing list my competitors set up.
  •          Check my competitors’ websites on a regular basis.
  •          Network with groups of professionals in the CI business and with those adjacent to this business. There, listen. I repeat, listen.

I will not mention the others we use because those are more competitively sensitive. But, you can see that even in the competitive intelligence business we have to do our own competitive intelligence.

Going to the source

July 3, 2013


One way you look for data for competitive intelligence, when you’re doing your own research, is to visualize the data as something that is flowing, like a stream. You want to figure out where it originated, and where it moves. Then you try to figure out where is a good place to intercept some or all of that data.

One thing that is often overlooked is going directly to the source of the data. In most cases, that is your competitor, which of course, can cause problems. Before you even think of doing this, check to see if your company has a policy against contacting competitors. You’d be surprised how many corporations, particularly those that it been in business for 75 or more years, have policies dealing with this. They tend to come out of misadventures with antitrust authorities in the past.

Assuming that your company has no policy against you contacting a competitor, think out whether or not you should do so. Who would you call there? What would you ask for? What would you say when someone asks who are you and why are you calling? The answer the latter one is — the truth. You are not a “student calling to research a paper”, you are not a hassled customer calling about a bill. Now you don’t have to volunteer information, but do not lie.

Now you probably can’t pick up the phone and call your opposite number, say a product manager. We can, and do, but that is another story. What you can do is look at your competitor and find out where your competitor faces the public. More specifically, does it have a consumer information line, or a place on its website allowing people to ask questions? If so, exploit these. These people are there to provide information to the public, usually customers or shareholders or potential customers, and there is no reason not to at least ask. The worst they can say is “no”.

Let me give you one quick example. Several years ago, we were developing intelligence for client on the possible rollout of a new product. It happened to be food, but that is not really that important. We found out that the product was being offered in another city and wanted to figure out if the company was positioning itself for a national or regional roll-out. Our background research indicated it was likely that the company was positioning for a national rollout, but to confirm that we called the consumer help line. We simply said we had heard about this new product, that we lived in Pennsylvania, which is true, and that we wanted to know when it might be available here. The individual in the help center, being helpful, asked that we wait for a moment while she checked. She came back in a moment and said “I have answer for you. It appears that we are rolling the product out on a national basis and we expect it will be available in Pennsylvania in about 6 to 8 weeks.” I said, “Thank you very much.” By the way, I actually went out and bought the product when it showed up here. It was pretty good.

My point is never ignore the obvious – the source.