Be Careful What You Wish For

June 12, 2018

Our local newspaper, the Reading Eagle, has a weekly supplement, Business Weekly.

I want to dissect a piece there (without mentioning the name of the firm because that is not relevant) to show you what can sometimes be found on private companies in local newspapers.

This piece focuses on a private local company that has moved into new quarters.[1] Here is what it disclosed:

  • The size of its former manufacturing facility.
  • The location of the new space for the firm’s factory and office.
  • The size of that new facility and how much space is dedicated to production there.
  • The cost of renovating the new facility, as well as the source of a public loan for that work. Often the files associated with such loans can contain other competitively sensitive data.
  • Data on a solar power, including what percentage of the plant’s total energy the 50 thousand watt array provides (which lets you calculate its total power consumption).
  • What kind of injection molding equipment the plant uses.
  • A statement that an additional machine is on order to join to the current (specified) number already on site.
  • What its customer surveys show about the reasons customers pay a significant premium for the firm’s products.
  • Year over year sales increase percentages for the past 7 years. Fortunately, the base amount is not specified, but one year might be available from other sources. That would allow you to calculate the current sales levels.
  • The company’s plans to change all its packaging.

Think of this as a research suggestion as well as a warning to companies to be careful about what they reveal to get local media coverage.[2]

[1] Jeff McGaw, “Brush with success”, Reading Eagle Business Weekly, June 12, 2018, pp. 8-11.

[2] Interestingly, our new book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right, contain a case where a private firm finds that a published interview with the CEO is the source of leaked competitively sensitive data.

A Quick Start Defensive CI Checklist

May 31, 2016

What is competitively sensitive data (CSD)? CSD includes data from which a third party can reconstruct your trade secrets as well as data which, if accessed by competitors, would diminish your competitive advantage and/or improve theirs. That varies from firm to firm and could be customer lists, product formulations, pricing tactics, total sales and profits, or employee incentive systems.

Very few firms worry about restricting the way their competitors may be able to access CSD. Even fewer firms have formal defensive CI programs. However, there are a few simple first steps that all firms and individuals involved with CI can take to protect against their competitors’ actual or potential CI activities.

Here is a short check list to get started:

  • Identify which of your data is truly competitively sensitive.
  • Assess your current CSD inventory. In particular, check your business web sites as well as the firm’s social media sites, such as postings on YouTube and Face Book for CSD already in plain sight. Take it down at once. Check employee sites for similar leaks and alert them to take action.
  • Know where your firm produces and stores CSD, who has access to it (including third party contractors), and why they have that access.
  • Minimize your CSD footprint. Restrict access to CSD by your personnel and third parties. Base that access not on trust or previous reliability, but only on a real, current need to know.
  • Train all employees, particularly those that are customer-facing, such as sales and support, on what CSD is and how to spot efforts to get access to it.
  • Work with third parties who have access to your CSD to sensitize them to the need to protect it. Make sure your agreements with them cover this point.
  • Work with corporate security to reinforce protections against the accidental release of CSD as they do with trade secrets.
  • Make sure employees and third parties know who to notify if they suspect the possible leak or loss of CSD.
  • Don’t over react. CSD usually loses its value over time, so don’t try and protect everything from everyone forever.