A Look At Competitive Intelligence
Read in 5 min. Unfortunately, many companies fail to pay heed to what is happening in the outside world. But, if we wish to succeed, we need to know what is going on, what it means to us, and what we should be doing about it.
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The most important distinguishing feature of successful companies is the extent to which they respond to the external environment. Unfortunately, many companies fail to pay heed to what is happening in the outside world. But, if we wish to succeed, we need to know what is going on, what it means to us, and what we should be doing about it.
In other words, we need to be involved in competitive intelligence, which is a systematic and ethical programme for gathering, analysing, and managing information about the external business environment that can affect our company’s plans, decisions, and operations. Timely intelligence will help us to find business opportunities and new markets, anticipate and minimise risk, make rational decisions, improve our strategic planning, innovate, and take action before our competitors.
Even though the potential benefits are many, some of us will be reluctant to get involved. Yet, intelligence operations can be conducted legally and ethically (at least 95% of the information we need is freely available), they carry little risk, are cheap to set up, very effective, easily concealed, and almost impossible to prevent.
What should we look for?
We all suffer from information overload, but intelligence will help decision makers to focus on those matters that are critical to success. Routine, published information is rarely of any intelligence value. What we must look for are signs of change. That means being familiar with a wide variety of information sources.
Having collected the relevant information, it needs to be analysed. While there are numerous software tools for organising information as an aid to analysis, the function is best achieved through the application of imagination and common sense, and by asking some very simple questions:
* what has happened?
* what does it mean, or how will it affect us?
* what responses are available to us and to our competitors?
* what action should we take?
The results of that analysis must be then passed to decision makers in a style and format that will encourage them to take timely and appropriate action. And the most effective tool for conducting research, for assisting with analysis, and for making sure information is shared, is a knowledge map (sometimes called an expertise database). It consists of records of contacts who possess knowledge concerning all aspects of our industry, both within the company and from outside.
Who should be involved?
The most suitable people to carry out intelligence activities are our own employees; they know our business best. We all collect information automatically, we just don't think too deeply about what to focus on, or what to do with it.
What sort of training will be needed?
Setting up an intelligence operation takes time. Nevertheless, one very effective way to accelerate the process is to invest in training. Inadequate training is, by far, the most common reason why intelligence operations fail. Yet, a comprehensive and effective training programme (for those who are already familiar with their own business) may take only two to four days of concentrated effort.
The training programme should ensure that the majority of low-level managers and supervisors (but especially those who operate in the field, make frequent outside visits, network widely, or attend trade shows) should be aware of the benefits of intelligence operations, be familiar with the most profitable sources of information, and be able to gather relevant information.
As many people as possible (but more particularly mid-level and senior managers and intelligence staff) should receive additional training on how to:
* interpret and analyse information and transform it into intelligence;
* produce action-oriented intelligence reports and briefings;
* protect sensitive information;
* establish and manage a business intelligence operation.
Intelligence operations don’t have to be expensive or glamorous; even some fairly cheap and simple measures can be very effective. But we do need to find out what is going on, decide what to do about it, and take action before our competitors. If we don’t, we will continue to blunder along in the dark, not knowing where we are going, what our competitors are doing, or what business opportunities are passing us by.
Bill Gates, in Business @ the speed of thought, put it this way:
I have a simple but strong belief that the most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.
Your thoughts matter - more than you can imagine.
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