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Competitive Intelligence Certification- Is it worth it?

Hi Guys,

The CI function at my organization has really taken off. I found a way to deliver actionable CI to our Executives and BU communities in a way that fits our culture.
As a thought on my growing the CI function, I was wondering if obtaining a CI certification is a good idea? Do you think it would be useful? And if so, which programs are the best?

What are your thoughts?

Thanks again for your help,

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Hi Trip:

I guess it is not compulsory to take the seminar to get a certification. I am not sure if someone who has been trained on CI elsewhere pay to do the same course again. Or would they?


Hi Nimalan,

I’ve just read the press release, that’s all.  I am sure this will raise a lot of questions and will stir debate in the proceeding weeks.   





P.S.    Did the institutional CI functions at Mercyhurst and Institute for Competitive Intelligence anticipate this merger, or not? :-)

For people who are newer to the CI profession, CI certification will be a valuable credential. However, for those who have CI education elsewhere like Mercyhurst or the Institute for CI, or those who have many years of experience...certification is not that valuable.

The other thing to bear in mind is that many companies don't acknowledge CI as a separate profession, but include CI within many company functions like sales, strategic planning, product development and R&D.

Having a certification program at SCIP will help publicize that it is a profession, assuming there is lots more publicity around it.


I agree with Ellen in that for those that feel they are expert practitioners through years of experience and application of their talents, it's not valuable--hence all the NOs.  However, is it important to the profession? Is it important to the growth of the profession?  To me it gets down again to expectations of a standard of performance.  How can you expect a certain standard of performance only based on a person telling you they are good at this or that or have been doing it for a long time, or have a certain talent? Certainly you can look at their past performance, or body of work--but still there is no standard to judge by.    What about standards of ethics in a field that lacks certification? 

I can tell from the responses this hit a nerve with some and felt personal, maybe we asked the wrong question. Perhaps the question however should be rephrased to : Are Professional Certifications valuable to the Professional field?   I agree there are some excellent practitioners that simply don't need a certification. Professions in our society, in general have a certification process, else it's like what Forest Gump said "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you will get."   I guess my military training is kicking in here.  I never let anyone work on the job until they were first certified.  That does not mean they were immediate experts, it meant that I could expect that they knew the basics and I could expect a certain standard of performance--they were not making it up as they go along.  In essence the cert was a guide that they built upon. 

I think practical application such as on the job training with a mentor is the essential step that is missing right now from CI certifications.  In the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), their certification requires that you actually have worked on a certain number of proposals-and to maintain your cert you have continuing ed and have to continue to work in the field.   In defense of those that have been there, done that but did not take the course (and did not get the tee shirt)--maybe there should be a process to certify those that have been the pathfinders for the rest of us.  I tip my hat to those that made this a credible profession.

Back to my thinking: It's in that mentoring process that you might learn to use skills that you can't pick up in a class room.  That is also when you find out if someone is lacking a certain talent.  We had the case where one of our CI analysts just could not work a trade show or pick up the phone and do a cold call to a supplier--just not in her make up.   Great  analyst, but just could not do elicitation at all. Some hunt some gather, she gathered.  Did that make her any less valuable?  No, we worked as a team and played off of each others strengths and weaknesses.  

This is a profession of art and science, but what profession out there is not?  Teach the science mentor the art--maybe together in the process it becomes a certification....


Great discussion!

Fantastic discussion!

I recall a few years ago, while serving on SCIP's board myself, talking about how the profession would never be recognized without a rigorous certification credential and how we should look to other abstract professions for examples CI could aspire to. We learned we first needed to establish a body of knowledge (BOK) to define the fundamental competencies of what it meant to be a professional (which was done a couple of years back by the Competitive Intelligence Foundation in a project led by Prof. John Prescott). We also needed to establish a set of professional standards (including, but absolutely not limited to, an understanding of legal and ethical nuances). And, finally, documented work experience should also be part of certifying anyone as merely "competent" ... let alone professional. Without such an objective yardstick, any subjectively-applied certification credential would never mean all that much to an employer and ran the risk of only ever being viewed as nice-to-have resume padding or, far worse, a mail-order diploma.

Two such analogs we studied were project management and financial analysis. The Project Management Institute has a very rigorous certification that is very difficult to earn - indeed, many who attempt it ultimately fail and give up ... and therein lies its value ... scarcity. Here are details on the PMI credentials if you're curious - as Richard illustrates in his points above, there are actually many competencies relevant to CI as there are project management - there is no such thing as a "utility player" who is skilled at everything - as such, the PMI has several different certifications:

To contrast, the CFA Institute's Chartered Financial Analyst designation requires a minimum of four years of work experience even to apply, then three years of successive annual testing and independent study to prepare for each separate module. Only 10 percent of those applicants pass all three on the first time through - I only know because my brother Derek was one of those 10 percent and he studied several hours a day for six months pre-test to achieve it. Was he proud when he earned it? Hell yes, he was proud! He'd worked his tail off - Derek's more proud of his CFA than he is of his MBA and it means a lot more to other CFAs too - they know how hard it is to earn. Here's a link to those standards for you:

All professional certifications of value have one thing in common - they apply a yardstick of competence defined by a body of knowledge endorsed and recognized by the academic and professional members of the profession. These standards change from time to time and are overseen by a quasi-permanent advisory board of researchers, teachers and practitioners who incorporate the latest research in the field into evaluating practices acceptable or encouraged by professionals as the field changes.

But, valued (and valuable) certifications are also not very easy to get. The applicant must demonstrate a long-term commitment to the field and should be able to document their own professional experience in practicing with real-world problem-solving the principles of the body of knowledge of their profession even to apply.

Otherwise, why bother?

The intellectual disciplines of business management constantly desire a credential that rivals the professional status of doctors and lawyers, two professions with 2000 years more history than our brand new "profession" of intelligence. My spouse is a physician and I accompanied her through the latter part of medical school, all of residency, and all of the board certification process, so I can report in a more detailed manner on how certification would compare to their established procedures for public recognition of professionals.


Doctors have a completely different methodology than those in business and government. They are devoutly committed to peer-review and demonstrable evidence to arrive at standard of care, an agreed-upon method of practicing medicine that is often the only way to be paid by insurance companies. Don't be confused, this is a new process for them; before the 20th century, doctoring relied quite a bit on oral tradition, anecdotal agreement on "what works best." They got the peer part down, but rigorous evidence based medicine only began in the last century - and still has a long way to go.


Today, physicians are in the business of mercilessly rooting out bad assumptions and ineffective practices using statistically-significant sample sizes, proper research trial design agreed by committees of top practitioners, regular publication in scientific journals, and rigorous discussion of the merits of the discoveries of the day. Transparency is key, such that to make something part of standard of care, you must see:

  • whether it concerns a sufficient patient population
  • is truly beneficial (i.e. prolonged life, increased quality of life, reduced comorbidities)
  • is economically-sensible for the benefit promised

That is how they arrive at practices. All training for their practitioners is based on a detailed education in the standard of care of the day, a body of knowledge which is constantly expanding. Finally, certification of a professional depends on meeting agreed-upon, transparent standards for the mastery of this knowledge - requiring demonstration of both knowledge and practical application. The design of the tests are also peer-reviewed and are carefully engineered to show strengths and weaknesses in a physician before they are given an MD, made board-eligible, and finally given board certification.


While it sounds great to mimic the rigor, academic citations, and credentials of scientific professions - can we honestly say that intelligence is close to being able to do this?

Again, this is not an invitation to self-flagellation - I did mention that doctors had a two millennium head-start and a couple of hundred years ago were still kicking people out of their profession for suggesting that surgeons should wash their hands before operating. (That guy is a worry-wart - get him outta here!) Intelligence simply isn't likely to match this level of credential any time soon.


Then again, should we throw the baby out with the bath water? Should we not see some form of credential as beneficial? I could compare intelligence to another, less developed profession: conference planning. There is a certification for professional conference planners. Do they have the same rigor as cardiothoracic surgeons? Nah. But if you are trying to put on a conference for 10,000 people and laying out a couple of million in advance, would I like to know I am dealing with someone who can conceive of the awesome complexity of thousands of vendors, permitting processes, and liability? Yeah, that would be useful. Then again, the only thing it provides is credibility in the eyes of the client - it doesn't necessarily speak to a defined level of professional competence in the way that medical training in the United States does.


At the end of the day, I think these things are apples and oranges. If I tell you a joke about nanotechnology, and it helps you see your strategic future and make a couple billion dollars, then I was really useful. If you get a dry, INACCURATE report on your competitors and it spurs management to make some great visionary moves, then it was useful. But - what if you did everything correctly and top management goes and wrecks the company anyhow? How could you measure these practices, repeat them, make them double-blind, peer-review them, arrive at a standard of care for this field? Moreover - do any intelligence practitioners want to be sued by a company for MALPRATICE? Can you envision the lawsuits about how a company got blindsided and bankrupted because their intelligence firm didn't use the standard practices of the field?


If we want to emulate licensed professionals, we should be well aware of the complexity involved. I think we are a long way from the scientific rigor to which we pretend.

Which is why we need to start 'right now' particularly if we have a delay of "two millennium" or so... :-)

Spot on!!!

Thank you Richard.

100% with you "...This is a profession of art and science, but what profession out there is not?  Teach the science mentor the art..."

"This is a profession of art and science, but what profession out there is not?  Teach the science, mentor the art"

I am keeping this quote in my back pocket - an elegant description of mastering complex information in a shifting world.

There is still one piece missing to this quote: Teach the science, mentor the art, and leverage the experience. As I have stated in several of my writings in this area, Effective CI practice has always been varying components of art, science and experience... not so different in objective from many of the professions this field aspires to emulate.

LIKE what Craig said above.


Hi Sam,

I agree with Richard, learn the science but definitely mentor the art.

I will be attending Fuld-gilad-herring ACI program this spring/summer and will happily share learnings with you if interested.


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