Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Arik's comments have lead to a spirited discussion which also invites thoughts about what we call ourselves or our profession. I understand that it's not likely that SCIP will change its name, but the rest of us have to deal with a phrase that is virtually unknown, even among strategists and marketers. Accordingly, we have the option to reconsider this issue.

Many of us started using the term "business intelligence" in the mid 90s to turn the focus away from competitORs, and that worked well for a while - until it was usurped by data management.

Now, I see the early signs that "market intelligence" is slowly being used / usurped by market researchers who want to demonstrate that they offer more than data - that their value proposition now includes analysis.

We know that many CI depts use a wide variety of terms when they don't want to use CI. One of the most popular is some adjective followed by the word insights, such as customer insights or market insights.

It's easy to defend the argument for staying with the term competitive intelligence, but if part of our mantra is staying ahead of change, then we too must be open to what we need to change re our profession - in order to make it current and relevant to business today.

So - how about a naming contest??

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Vernon raises an interesting point - and another good term. Oh, to be able to just say lawyer or dentist (maybe not good choices as these imply pain) - a single word which is widely understood even if there's no nuance.

The concern I have with Strategic Analyst - a term which I like as it sounds clever, is that I believe there is a lot of that going on today, but without the intelligence. Strategic Analyst can easily do their work based on internal info, which I think is the likely scenario. Intelligence, to me, broadens the input to include outside information, which is more useful, IMO, than internal.
I'd vote for the term "industry analysis" because it includes Kieran's excellent suggestion for "competitive analysis" and adds a window to include: customers, channels, substitutes and vendors. And maybe go global with "global industry analysis" in step with the organization's goal to be global, as well as in concert with the reality that most industries have gone or are in the process of becoming global in terms of competition.
I'd like to propose Competitive Awareness .

This has the advantage that it avoids the loaded concept "intelligence", but also distances us from what I see as the problematic and ongoing discussion about whether we deal with Collection and Analysis - two areas which I believe are and should be linked adaptively and iteratively. Separating Analysts from Collectors and Analysis from Collection has caused untold problems - the one influences the other, and in many organizations where the same people are doing both, the distinction is not always helpful.

I believe that what we do (or at least what I try and do and teach) is about engendering and enhancing awareness of one's external competitive environment.

As I've argued on different occasions, it's all about noticing, which means that awareness (earlier rather than later) of what could or will shortly surprise or 'bite' us, is at the heart of our activity. Someone mentioned James Bond, but the real hero is surely Sherlock Holmes who "saw what others did not".

As a last point, whether or not SCIP changes its name is becoming ever less relevant for the majority of practitioners.


Michael Neugarten
Hello, Michael, I'm afraid you confuse Sherlock Holmes with his brother Mycroft [Secrets and Lies. Another look at British Intelligence in the WNU by David Kennedy ( )]. ;-)

Best wishes,
I personally like Competitive Intelligence. My company has two groups, one called Insights and Intelligence and my group called Environemtnal and Competitive Intelligence. I don't want to change it, everywhere I have worked, intelligence as a title has worked quite well.
I agree with you Mel - I think the term needs a smidge of repositioning (or all out rehab?) but it's absolutely salvageable and potentially more powerful than ever. We can make it happen!

After all, we've all managed to accrue ourselves here together based on the identity CI has offered us... I believe we need to be more specific about CI's scope and mandate and we can indeed renew and revitalize what has been the definition of our professional identity for the better part of our adult lives.

At least, I know that's true for you and me. ;-)


- Arik
I've agreed with most of the viewpoints so far. Isn't it odd that BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE (which should be a better name for us if it wasn't already taken) implies "business smarts" while our discipline implies cloak and dagger?

MARKET INTELLIGENCE would be an improvement, I think. I recall a position paper put out several years ago by Strategy Software recommending a change to COMPETITIVE AFFAIRS.

I think the key is to look for something that conveys the key attributes of learning and research along with analysis, evaluation, and advising.

One company I worked for referred to the whole statistical-CI-CRM area as Marketing Sciences.

I think any renaming effort will fail largely because this isn't one discipline, it's a whole group of disciplines under an umbrella. In addition, it's not just done for one purpose or client, it's used across a wide spectrum.

The only reason it's gotten COMPETITIVE as a tag is because of the aim to improve a company's competitive position. We try to evoke the imagery of the coach attempting to conjure up a victory by analyzing the opposing pitcher/quarterback/goalie. While there's validity in that image, it's woefully incomplete. All our name suggestions will feel like a "too small umbrella" during a downpour.
I think efforts such as KM's mindmapping/taxonomy exercise could help with some of the redefinition we're discussing here Mark.

I agree that the alternatives are "too small" a concept to encompass the skill set, as you suggest. So, I would far prefer to try and reinvigorate an existing idea ("rehab" it) than create an entirely new identity that enthusiasts would then have to suss out and agree upon (reinvent), which would happen anyhow with the rehabilitation of the existing idea.

There's enough momentum behind the CI nomenclature that I decided a couple of years ago it was worth saving and I believe members of this forum (at least) largely agree simply out of the evidentiary accrual of their membership around the core idea.

"Selling it" as a managerial discipline is what's needed. I have always questioned the idea that it's a "profession" implying a fixed career path toward maturity however - that certainly happens, but it I think acceptance of the DISCIPLINE is a prerequisite step to addressing opportunities more formally for a CAREER in the field.

In some ways, the professionalization of the discipline was premature to the establishing of the discipline's importance in the first place. I merely suggest we go back to basics and lay that foundation as our next order of business so that a career path can, in fact, be defined more professionally going forward.

- Arik
I think we may be trying to put the cart before the horse here.

Just to be clear - CI is not a Profession. It is an activity which is undertakne by those who have already qualified in a different profession (e.g. scientist, engineer, lawyer, accountant, marketer, psychologist). CI has no universally accepted qualification, no recognised career path, no stated entry requirements, no CPD requirement and, more importantly, we can't even agree on what it is we do. Some practitioners even avoid answering the "what do you do" question truthfully because they know they will not be able to articulate an understandable answer. Even more worryingly, that applies equally within and outside the business community.

Maybe if we could all agree on what CI consists of, its component parts and the skills needed to conduct this activity, then perhaps we will find that "competitive intelligence" is the best phrase to wrap around these muti-facted activities. To me the task is all about legally garnering information from the most suitable, reliable sources available and turning that into intelligence which informs the firm about its entire competitive arena. On this intelligence, decisions at all levels should be better informed, if only to guide decision-makers on what NOT to do as much as what TO do. It involves all elements of a firm, from R&D through outsourcing, patenting, recruitment, product design. marketing, budgets, financial forensics, M&A, SAs, JVs, franchising, suppliers, contractors and, of course, all the externally factors. In other words, the lot!!

In my teaching of the subject, the first in-class task they have to do is to prepare a convincing presentation, suitable for delivery to a Board to explain what CI is and to put all of the other acronyms (MI, BI, KM, DM, EIS, MMS, CIS, CRM, MR, EA etc) into context. By Week 2 they understand the uniquness of CI, the part it plays in pulling together all of the other disparate, principally backward facing/historical reporting style tasks and they can articulate it to anybody who asks them.

As I have said many times to those who want to listen, I do not care one jot what anybody calls the task of CI. If it suits the firm to nail the plate of Business Analysis Department or Marlet Resarch Unit or Corporate Insights Department to the door because Competitive Intelligence Department does not suit their style and is less acceptable to their culture, then that is fine by me. The only thing that matters is that the folks on the other side of the door understand that what they are tasked to do, really is "competitive intelligence" and that they are a critical conduit of relevant, processed analysis to their decision makers. They need to understand more than anybody that they are not just the passive observers, or commentators of uncontrollable external events.


Interesting point that "CI is not a profession." It's probably reflective of the specific country. In the US, we don't need certification or other formal training to be a professional. We just declare it!! This is evidenced by the founders naming SCIP with the "P." If I understand your point, and if SCIP had started in the UK, all members would have required one of the qualifications you cited, such as stated career path or entry requirements, etc.

Numerous areas in the US don't have stated qualifications, such as marketing. Certification is increasingly being developed in numerous areas where it didn't previously exist. However, for the most part, employees and clients - in the US - don't care about this, unless you can't do the job without it. On the other hand, this could be a differentiating factor in a job hunt, especially online resumes.
Hi Seena,

Yes, I think that if SCIP had been started anywhere other than the US, it would have developed at a far greater pace and yes, some form of standard would have been set before one could call themselves a professional. The fact that this is not normal in the US does not do anybody any favours and only serves to belittle those who have worked for many years following an agreed upon career path, studying for externally set, rigorous examinations, in order to achieve such a status. It also tends to lend weight to the "only in America" line which accompanies such absurdities.

I think that having had nearly 30 years to "get it right" SCIP's penetration of the available, willing global market, and lack of influence even in the US, is disappointing to say the least.

If we could turn back time I think the P should have been Practitioners not Professionals because that is what we are talking about. SCIP does not have the resources, or influence to professionalize the practice. Yes it can deliver two conferences a year, host a few webinars and organise commercially priced courses but there is not much more in the armoury than that in terms of professionalism. The much promoted code of ethics. helpful as it is in terms of guiding new entrants, has no legal standing anywhere in the world and to my knowledge, has never been used to refuse or terminate membership. Maybe SCIP would be able to claim the moral high ground if it were to do this.

If you would like to see a paper which was presented in Europe in 2008 on Professionalizing the Practice of CI, let me know and I will send it to you. The standards against which CI was measured were US in origin, not European. Against a set of 5 standards, CI achieved a bare pass on one, passed on one more and failed on 3. If the influence of CI is as high in todays commercial world as we claim it to be, how can this happen?

Now, I have no vested interested whatsoever in rubbishing the practice or existence of CI. For goodness sake, I have done it for real in a tough results orientated corporate environment, I teach it and I write on it. Don't get me wrong, SCIP has been beneficial to me in my career, but I do worry about the lack of ambition and continual tinkering at the edges which is put forward as strategic thinking. I invite you to look at SCIP's statement on its strategy for 2009-2013. Ask yourself if you would be happy if that were your firm's mission for the next 5 years and bear in mind that this has been written and approved by the Board, comprising 11 of the Society's most respected/elected minds.

I have always felt there could be a professionally recognized credential similar to the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation that CI practitioners could earn... but as you suggest Sheila, it has to be "worth earning" which, albeit, a little chicken-and-egg, must be academically-accredited in its rigor to make it worthwhile.

I remember my brother Derek deciding that his MBA was of less value in the investment management business (his career prior to my recruiting him to Auroa) than the CFA was, so he invested in the CFA first as a higher-priority. Consider that for a second: the CFA professional designation is more important than an advanced professional degree in the finance field. I don't claim to understand that, as I've never earned one... but I do know that, when Derek hands that business card over with "CFA, MBA" on it behind his name, the other CFAs in the room pay attention, because they know (almost at a "tribal" level) how doggone hard it is to do.

Indeed, I think Derek probably studied harder for the CFA than he did for his MBA! I recall a six-month ramp-up time of several-hours-per-day study (usually pre-dawn before work, or afterwards) preparing for each phase of the exam (with six months off after each test) and the absolute feeling of pride and elation he had when he passed... particularly, all three phases on the first go - a feat only done by about 15% of candidates. It sounded horrible but boy... is it valued.

Anyhow, I have to wonder if there could ever be a three-phase credential like this for CI someday that could be earned through standardized, international testing over a period of perhaps one phase per year - the first focused on critical skills, the second on effective professionalism and the final a kind of dissertation or something more applied in nature.

Lots of the candidates for this kind of credential wouldn't make it, of course, but then again, I never said it should be easy. ;-) Indeed, to be valued it must be (like the CFA) hard to get.

- Arik


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