Competitive Intelligence

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

I’ll put in an unsolicited plug for my buddy Ken Sawka at Outward Insights, and direct you to a recent article of his called “The Death of the CI Professional.” [www.outwardinsights.com]

This is a concept that has been bouncing around in my head for years, and which has been discussed at SCIP Board meetings. Is the future of CI in a relatively small group of full-time practitioners, or in a huge group of general business managers who can benefit from having CI skills and an “intelligence mindset”? Obviously, it will be some combination of the two, but I (and Ken) argue that the future lies more with the latter group. If we are correct, the profession will look very different in the future than it does today. Depending on how we react, it can be either a huge boon for us, or we can choose to fight it and watch the world pass us by.

For the last 15 years or so, I would argue that CI has become more and more diffuse within organizations. In general terms, we went from a centralized CI team serving the executive suite to a hub and spoke model of a small centralized function that connected with CI contacts in individual business units. Next, we started to see CI professionals who acted as internal consultants for their organizations – producing some CI, but mostly facilitating the process, and acting as a subject-matter expert for one-off exercises in scenario planning, war gaming, conference collection, etc. In each instance, the number of full-time CI practitioners grew smaller, while the reach of CI in the organization grew wider. The next logical step in some organizations may be for the full-time CI professional to disappear altogether.

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we will see that organizations are not necessarily worse off as a result of this trend. The “CI virus,” if you will, has spread throughout the organization, which still gets most of the CI that it needs. While one may argue that this CI is not as good as a full-time practioner would provide, this is akin to arguing that vinyl records are superior to CDs/MP3s in audio quality. Yes they are, but that difference is lost on the consumer, who is more concerned with convenience and portability.

Our customers – senior decisionmakers – don’t care about distinctions between CI, market research, library research, etc. They just want the information they need, and they will get it in the most efficient way possible. Compounding this trend are demographic factors. The decision makers of today grew up doing their own online research, and know better how to leverage their contacts for CI. Intelligence is more in their nature than it was for their predecessors. We’ve certainly seen this in many of the successful Silicon Valley and tech start ups. Many of these companies have never had a formalized CI function, or if they did, it was started only after these companies became so large that someone needed to manage the process.

Your thoughts?

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Hi Mislav,

the Google Insight is really a great analysis tool. Demographically, now it s easy to dissect the place and now we can tailor the needs right from G-8 summit countries to BRIC countries.

So, i really can't say that there is no actual death of CI professional... but, it just needs to be re-positioned in the minds of the decison-makers, that our support to their inevitable decision would be & should be THE BEST !
To add to Mislav's comment, another type of search can be done with LinkedIn, by Searching "Groups".

It has the added benefit that results give number of Groups + number of people in each group

For example, maybe use use terms like: "Competitive Intelligence", "Market Intelligence" , "Market Research" , .... and related fields like "Strategic Planning" and even "Business Intelligence" (which has the highest numbers).

As for the main topic, for those worried about their CI future, as a thought.... a good part of strategic planning and global marketing is: CI intelligence.

P.S. - Anyone interested in moving into above two areas is welcome to join:
LinkedIn group: "Corporate Planning & Global Industry Segmentation"
or join a Ning for the same topic at http://corporateplanning.ecompetitors.com
Ken - a really good article and analysis.

In fact I think that the idea of a dedicated CI function has actually held back the practice of CI in some (many) companies as it's led to information silos which are the reverse of what good CI should actually be. Although you need dedicated information functions to get the ball rolling, when these become entrenched they become self-defeating as they risk becoming seen as a closed access repository of knowledge rather than the facilitator of knowledge collection and dissemination.

In an ideal situation, all members of a company should be contributing to the corporate CI - with the role of CI analysis not being the exclusive domain of an elite group of CI professionals. In a world where there is a need for supplier analysis, "know your customer" reports, competitive financial analysis, R&D benchmarking and more there is too much for a small group of CI professionals to do effectively. The CI professionals can't be expected to be experts in all these areas and so they become experts in nothing relevant to the organisation's detailed in-depth needs OR push to cover them all and become bloated, inefficient and costly. So no wonder organisations downgrade the CI function.

I see the role of a CI professional as a facilitator - perhaps like the HR function - bringing the various types of knowledge the company needs to survive together so it can be accessed by whoever needs it. Their role is to help: purchasing produce supplier reports - analysed by purchasing experts; R&D to evaluate market innovations - interpreted by technical experts; and so on.

That is one reason why we chose "marketing-intelligence.co.uk" as our domain name 12 years ago, rather than using the term "competitive-intelligence" - as CI, as i see it, is a function of the the intelligence organisations require to market their products and services profitably i.e. is a part of organizational marketing in its widest sense, rather than a narrow look at competitors only, or even the competitive environment.

Having said this, there IS a role for CI professionals - as facilitators, trainers and integrators to help ensure effective organisational intelligence in the learning organisations of 2009+. It's just that this role is different to that of 1999 or 1989. In a web 2.0 enabled world, the concept of information sharing, collaboration and cooperation is seen as the way forward - and the CI ivory tower concept doesn't lend itself to this world.
Hi Bill,

Thanks for an interesting discussion. When I wrote my book, "Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical," my main motivation was to demystify and popularize CI techniques so they could be understood by everybody, including the solo entrepreneur who may never have studied business formally. I agree with Ken's observation that the future of CI may lie in it being diffused throughout an organization, forming a small part of many people's responsibilities.

After teaching thousands of BCIT graduates that CI should be an instinctive and internalized way of being, regardless of their job function, I know there are a great many salespeople, marketers and entrepreneurs out there who now see intelligence as a free-floating asset all around them, one that can be gathered without too much effort or cost.

I think it is better for a lot of people to know a little about CI than vice-versa. The challenge for us as a profession may be to popularize the disciplines of CI, rather than holding them too close to our chests. Cheers.. Rob
Thanks for the discussion Bill and for the article Ken.

CI for everyone!
I started an independent CI consulting practice up here in Alberta Canada just about 3 years ago. At the time, one of the biggest challenges that I faced was promoting a service that less that less than 10% of business people here had ever heard of, and I'd guess that less than 5% had an appreciation for what CI was.

The approach that I've taken when giving presentations on CI is as follows. I will first ask who has heard of CI -- there were very few hands at the start, but the percentage has grown encouragingly over the past few years. Then I will ask who is doing CI -- and most of the hands will drop.

But then I will point out that since CI is just about studying your business environment to make better decisions -- that pretty much everyone in the room is doing CI on either a personal or professional level. I will point out that the discipline of CI is about providing tools, analysis methods, tricks, etc. to help support the audience's endeavours.

The feedback from this approach has been really positive -- people are more interested in learning more and in finding out if there are skills from CI that can benefit what they're already doing.

What would this mean for us?
I think a world in which CI skills and awareness are broadly distributed throughout organizations would serve all of us SCIP members and, even more importantly, would better serve the organizations as well. CI skills distributed throughout an organization doesn't have to mean death for full-time CI practitioners either within the organization or operating as consultants.

Ultimately I think this would be a positive development for full-time CI practitioners -- as companies realized that they still needed a "CI champion" (as has been discussed on this site) or champions to ensure that the dispersed CI needs were being supported by enterprise information management, or to serve as a resource of CI excellence for other departments, or to coordinate with consultants on large projects, or to serve as a source of innovative CI practices for the whole company -- so that the CI champions are always searching for new ways to generate competitive advantage through the company's CI activities. And within the functions with large CI appetites -- sales, strategy, business development, marketing, etc. -- there could still be full-time CI folks. In smaller companies, there could still be full-time or part-time CI positions, and more SMEs would be able to benefit from CI activities.

On the consulting side, having a large pool of business people who have some knowledge of CI (or whatever it will be called) and an appreciation for its importance, should result in more business. In this world, folks in the different domains will have more awareness of the CI options that are available to them and will inevitably come across projects where they need extra help -- whether it's in primary interviewing or specialized analytical methods.

What do we need to do?
Since this is the way that the world is already unfolding...and SCIP is in the midst of some strategic re-imagining...how can we bring the two together?

We would certainly be offering something different from MRIA or SLA to advance a strategy where we sought to get an awareness of CI and CI training to as many business people as possible.

A few things off the top of my mind...

* Decide on a term -- I like insight, but have definitely seen growth in awareness of competitive intelligence as a term and it would be disappointing to lose that. What about "competitive insights"?

* Get a definition of CI ironed out that we can all get behind -- if we're going to be applying this to a variety of domains we'd need to have a broad definition that is also accessible...maybe "analysis of an organization's business environment to generate competitive advantage in decision-making" or "generating insights about your business environment to make your organization more competitive"

* Decide that we are going to be the source of excellence for everything encompassed by our definition of CI

* In addition to a full-suite of courses for "CI champions", develop training courses that are domain-specific and that we could cross-market to other associations -- e.g. marketing CI, sales CI, M&A CI, product management CI, public-sector CI, not-for-profit CI...

* In keeping with the distributed strategy -- get CI into every relevant business course -- even a mention of CI is a great place to start

....

What do you think?
Is this where we should go? If so, what can each of us and SCIP do to help make it happen?
I'd like to make a modification to my point above:
* Decide that we are going to be the source of excellence for everything encompassed by our definition of CI

Instead:
* Decide where we are going to be the source of excellence for what is encompassed by our definition of CI and collaborate with other associations/disciplines to fill the gaps

Perhaps another good question -- and probably more important before pushing forwards with anything else -- what are the changes that we need to make to reposition CI so that it can be absorbed by so many different disciplines? What has held us back in the past?

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