Competitive Intelligence

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

Challenges and Hurdles to a career in Competitive Intelligence

This discussion is intended to help CI enthusiasts in initial phases of their career.  I would really appreciate if fellow group members can share the challenges they are currently facing or have faced in past.  I will also request established members to share their experience of hurdles they had crossed and resources had that helped them in course of their professional journey.

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Without question, the greatest hurdle to a CI career (at least in the US and most likely in Europe) at present is that the Western world is mired in denial with regard to the longer term sustainability (or lack thereof) of our paths socioeconomically/Geo-politically, etc. Hence, when the whip smart CI folks come in the room and throw up 25 statistics that ever so clearly illustrate the very real trouble we are in, and why the scenario of systemic collapse is most probable, all heck breaks loose. This is simply too scary to even contemplate! Now lets just go back to telling ourselves that more bailouts are coming, academic finance is good, it doesn't matter that long term unemployment is skyrocketing, future surpluses will cover the astronomical debts we're racking up now, its cool that Caterpillar's CEO quadrupled his salary while cutting in half everyone else's, and no, no its not true that there can be no more growth and increased consumption when real wages are declining and the world is awash in more debt than can ever be repaid, etc.

CI is a truth telling function, and well, if we cant tell the truth?That said, I'd highly suggest a different career path at least  for now.

Regards, sorry to rain on the parade. I just think there is a lot of wishful thinking, pixie dust being sprinkled around when the facts stand in stark contrast.


Thanks for writing your perspectives.

Hi Monica,

I enjoyed reading your comment here :-) But I would not be so pessimistic about the CI profession. I agree there is an increasing discrepency today between telling the truth on one side, and telling management what they want to hear, but the notion of a profession built around intelligence, or need to know is just increasing for private companies. What I would suggest though for anyone contemplating a CI carreer is to learn as much about new technology as possible, as it is currently engineers who are driving this profession ahead, academically as well as profesionally. That is a problem for us economists and business students. 

One response to this problem, hinted by Arik Johnson, in his Bad Nauheim speech last year, is to focus more on the long term, on speculations. There will always be a need for people who can give visions. Indeed this has been the domain of the management guru for decades. There are also problems with this direction. For one thing managers want to know facts, and they want to know what will happen next week, and they are paying. There are also problems about competences. Speculations about the future demands very broad reading, not only business, but history, geography and culture. In my opinion few CI specialists have this broadness, in part because they have worked in a much narrower scope for decades, solving smaller tasks in the present and immediate future. There is also a problem of  turf. The domain of speculations has already been taken by "futurologists", geopoliticians and management gurus. I guess in the end it is all a question of qualification. There are also many CI people out there who CAN go from CI to the latest software to geopolitics. Those who can will be more valuable. 

Best, from Chengdu and NIMI



I would like to engage you in a bit more dialogue around your assertions here. The initial thread here was "challenges and hurdles" specifically, not a broad assessment of competitive intelligence in general. Thus, Monica isn't being "pessimistic" per se, she is precisely pointing out, as asked, the biggest hurdles to a "career" in CI today - the negative emotional reactions many executives are having in response to market conditions that do not deal kindly to the "base-plus-incremental-increase" style of technocratic management that most people learned in the past five decades. I think the colloquial expression in English is "shooting the messenger." It is a major hurdle for the field of CI in the present, jeopardizes the future, and deserves ample discussion if this field is to retain any vestige of relevance. 

In fact, let us discuss "pessimism." Competitive intelligence is in jeopardy, in my opinion, because of the unwillingness of so many to be negative for even a few uncomfortable moments while we see our marketplace analytically and perhaps find things that need changing. We appear unable to take the same medicine we are prescribing to thousands of executives around the world.

Competitive intelligence seems to be feckless in the face of the current mutations of the world industrial system. Almost no public figures in the CI world predicted the financial crisis. There has been a halfhearted attempt by some to sprinkle some magic "early warning" dust on their previous theories and methods, but there has not been anything that amounts to a serious attempt to deal with the remarkable changes in a world now driven more by centralized policy makers than anything Porter's Five Forces might suggest.

Moreover, I have attended several competitive intelligence events in the years since the crisis, and by looking at the proposed content, if there weren't iPads around and references to Twitter, you could drop the whole proceedings into 1997 and nothing would be different.

Meanwhile, the constant refrain is that we need to be selling more of the "CI mindset" to executives. Well, this field is around 30 years old, and I've been part of it for half of that time period. This is what people ALWAYS say, and they say it about futures studies as well - to little effect. How is it that nobody seems willing to stop and ask the questions "Why does this require so much cheerleading? Why isn't the value proposition immediately clear? Why does  every MBA take accounting but only a fraction learn about competitive analysis or scenarios?" (My last book asked these question in detail, by the way.)

These are real problems in the field of intelligence, and virtually no one is dealing with them so that we can ostensibly move past them to "best practices." I am trying to imagine what would happen in the medical profession if there was some major outbreak of influenza or a similar epidemic, and the general public started dying in droves and stopped going to physicians in favor of witches. What would it say about the profession if the following year's infectious disease conferences presented data from ten years prior and ignored the massive die-off and loss of prestige? Hard to say, since doctors are constantly challenging themselves, peer-reviewing their work, and demanding rigorous standards of ethics.

As to the way forward, you point to the adoption of technology and of foresight techniques. Technology is very important, and a very useful took. Speaking as someone who consults on the proper integration of technology into intelligence programs, I can say with 100% certainty that the number one obstacle to a successful intelligence program is executive mindset, not a lack of familiarity with RSS feeds. In fact, if you bet me which program would have greater success: a team of ten CI analysts with $300,000 in software in a company that hates intelligence and a single CI practitioner with only free online tools, a library card, and a CEO who craves data about the outside world, I'll side with the solo low-tech shop every time. Technology is great, but it cannot possible "drive the industry ahead" when fear, loathing and an obsession with the short term drags it back.

Which brings me to the future. This is most definitely my field of expertise, and I will say briefly that the foresight business is in every bit the same situation as competitive intelligence, and for the same reasons. Managers have been taught base-plus-incremental-change forecasting, and the "wild card" scenario exercises were - even in the best of times - what I call "executive entertainment." Sure, there are some intrepid intellects willing to lead against the grain because of their insight into the future - Shell, Nokia, etc. - but generally, futures had to be couched in technological marvels. Now that a significant part of the future involves telling people things they don't like to hear, its popularity is in decline. Is there more of a need for this than ever? Yes, but a need doesn't not necessarily create a fertile environment.

This may be not be unfailingly positive, but if somebody wants a career in this field, they had best be aware of the positive and the negative aspects of what is going on. After all, isn't dispassionate analysis what we sell to other people?

You know what kind of challenges and hurdles you will face? This video is based on real conversations.

Thanks Eric for putting video here.


Two other pieces that put my analysis/view in perspective, one from an ex CIA officer:




A CI company in India refused to hire me because I worked for their competitor. It has more to do with real CI work available in India. Big companies have got their regular marketing guys and technical people team up to do CI assignments. The need for such services is about a week in 2 months. Thus they require the services of a CI professional for just 7x6=42 days in an year.

They need not pay INR 3 to 4 lac per annum to hire a CI analyst.

Competitive Intelligence means many things to many people - I think that is where the largest challenge comes into play.  For an example, my firms focuses on our customers 'perceived' strengths and weaknesses - by us engaging in samples from them (existing customers and lost prospects).

Through that analysis - we obtain quantitative and qualitative data - while at the same time obtaining intelligence on our customers company, salespeople, executives, delivery personnel and product aspects.  These combined warrant intelligence on what they are doing great or poorly at - and also compares with competitors.

So again, 'competitive' intelligence (not just 'competitor' intelligence) - is what needs to identified and clarified and explained...  Roles in massive companies that do these functions also vary widely by name (knowledge management, business intelligence, etc)...


With all due respect, there is naturally going to be a vast and considerable divergence between your world view on CI and that of someone who has actually worked in the field for the last 14 years. I would therefore like to address your points one by one:


What I would suggest though for anyone contemplating a CI career is to learn as much about new technology as possible, as it is currently engineers who are driving this profession ahead, academically as well as professionally.


I would politely disagree. Engineers and technology do not drive CI, nor for that matter, do academics; they only assist. At the end of the day, the only thing that really drives CI forward are solid CI analysts who can  repeatedly deliver actionable SEWS and useful HUMINT.  While analysts sometimes use various technologies developed by engineers, most of the underlying IP still has a long way to go and  does not yet do much more than enable visualization, aggregation and allow for collaboration. Unstructured data analytics happens to be in its infancy as well. I wonder if you aren't confusing BI with CI. In closing on this point, I certainly don't see engineers actually delivering finished CI products in publishing, medical devices, high tech, semiconductors, legal, enterprise SW, pharma markets although they help enable the analysts by  crafting SW for the purposes illustrated above.

With regard to academics and CI specifically- I cant tell you how many of these fellows I've heard stories about waltzing into Global 400/Fortune 10 firms demanding large sums to speak at the C level only to get escorted from the room in about 20 minutes or less by the CEO or Sr VP of Strategy for being seriously out of touch. Here's how it ends: " Yes, yes here's your $3500 , now get out because you just don't get it. I don't want to hear about theoretics and hub and spoke models or PFF, I want the analysis I need now. " They have no clue because they have no practical real world experience! And they are dead out of the gate. (On that note, I brought one in myself-one of the biggest of the big-thinking he could help me get more support to build out my new CI function-and my CEO kicked him to the curb in about 15 minutes and I realized right then and there the only thing that was going to keep the momentum going was my own analytical production and so it was...)

2) KLAUS: One response to this problem, hinted by Arik Johnson, in his Bad Nauheim speech last year, is to focus more on the long term, on speculations


: Well, gee we all would really like to, but Arik knows as do I, that short termism is the prevailing modus operandi   at most firms today. Its all about meeting the numbers this quarter and keeping Wall St from downgrading your stock! CI can keep beating the drum to focus longer term, but its like pushing on a wet noodle. Why? Because the underlying structural frameworks, belief systems that guide business today are deeply flawed and counterveil the long term approach.

3) KLAUS: Speculations about the future demands very broad reading, not only business, but history, geography and culture. In my opinion few CI specialists have this broadness, in part because they have worked in a much narrower scope for decades, solving smaller tasks in the present and immediate future.

MONICA: For folks in the IC I would agree they need that breadth, as they are dealing with socioeconomic, geopolitical issues that have many intersections with culture, religion, etc and decisions made there have very long standing consequences and ramifications. However, the successful CI analysts I know in various industries are very deep in their respective fields. I do not agree that someone who is an expert in production publishing has to be an expert on geopolitics or social theory to succeed at Hewlett Packard or Cisco. Nor do I agree that the private industry CI timeline focus has to extend in the same way as that of the IC, the next PGO cycle or 2 usually works, however you go to war with Iran well that's an entirely different matter.

Monica Nixon

Thanks Arvind, recommend you taking a look at this briefing we created through the UK Competitive Intelligence Forum, the UK international affiliate of SCIP, exploring how people got into the discipline, existing challenges, opportuniuties and frustrations and what's next....simply register here and download the briefing through the link, briefing is called 'Intelligent Intelligence Career Planning'.

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