Competitive Intelligence

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A networking contact today asked me about putting together a WAR ROOM for his company. He's been around CI a while, and remembered back to a time when there was some talk of War Rooms. I generally steered him away from a physical war room for most things, since these are not accessible from remote sites or when team members travel. Plus virtual war rooms and collaboration zones have economies of scale that make them cheaper to run.

Putting aside the physical/virtual issues for a moment, what would you include in a WAR ROOM that bridges not just CI collaboration but strategy development as well. What tools, info sources, participants, structure... How would you advise him?

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Hello Mark,

Here is the definition I use in my glossary of terms: War room is an area set aside for use as an intelligence or knowledge centre or as a demonstration room for reverse engineering purposes. Also referred to as an operations or situation room, it may contain a variety of intelligence or market-oriented displays; act as an internet/intranet/database/knowledge map centre; be equipped as a library or a repository of information collections; allow easy and rapid access to recent research results.

I believe that the most essential item is a knowledge map (or contacts database), which must incorporate details of an individual's expertise as well as contact details. Some companies include directories and membership lists of related or useful organisations, a glossary of relevant terms and some means of controlling the vocabulary in whatever classification or indexing system is chosen. Collections of trade literature, competitor and market files, seminar and conference brochures, profiles of competitors and their senior people, and reverse engineering materials may profitably be included. The war room may also be equipped with some means for communication, preferably in visual form so that briefings and analytical sessions may be arranged without delay. Depending on the industry, some displays of up-to-date and critical information should be incorporated. The content is limited only be one's imagination, but that content should be such that it can be rapidly and readily distributed.

Kind regards,

Vernon Prior
Hello Mark

I have helped a number of clients set up war rooms. Briefly, there are a number of things I would suggest:

1. Access must be to the very few (physical - must have a security pass to enter room. Similar for virtual)
2. Members of the team with access to the war room generally include product managers, sales managers and one person from strategy plus the CI manager. Small teams with support from senior management are the best. They can work very quickly and effectively.
3. Competitors products, marketing material etc should be clearly displayed so that on entering the room (whether physical or virtual) we know why we are there! I have to say that a physical room has added benefits - touch, sight and taste is awfully powerful.
4. A white board for brainstorming sessions.
5. Charts on the wall identifying the outcome of analysis relating to industry structure and each competitor. These are often referred to during brainstorming sessions.
6. Charts of our own company's planned activities ie new product introductions, specific campaigns, pricing etc is clearly displayed with those anticipated by the competitors listed beneath. This is also where efforts are directed by team members who by the way, have all had some sort of CI training/understanding.
7. Most War Rooms have operated effectively when you have duopoly or very few players. Once you have a fragmented market, I have found war rooms far less successful as a competitive strategy process.

I am sure there is heaps more to say, - of yes, it is good for team members to meet physically for brainstorming sessions and to bond (you will be surprised how much more valueable the output becomes!!) - but just thought I would quickly jot down those things off the top of my head. Hope this helps you with your contact.

Hello Mark,

I would include:
- A wall for Industry information (for example, Porter's five forces information) for each line of business
- A wall for Company information
- A wall for everything else

When I've created such rooms at an insurance company, a bank, and at IBM, the fourth wall was used for food, agenda items, and sometime pictures. The above physical layout will help ensure that the information is structured around line-of-business (industry) decisions, as well as marketing and sales (competitive) decisions.

In my humble opinion, these physical rooms can be used in concert with the virtual world; and they are great for cross-functional corporate planning sessions for senior executives. (In my experiences as a corporate planner, the planning team, with support from: the line-of-business executives and the cross-functional teams from sales, marketing, finance, IT, etc., would jointly build the competitive landscape. Then, in the final day or two of the corporate and line-of-business strategy sessions, the C-level executives would join in for the reviews and for scenario planning etc.)

P.S. - At each company I purchased a huge printer that made wall charts directly from Excel spreadsheets; and after every planning session the corporate planning files were updated with input from the sessions where people could use markers to update the information. For example: to add the name of a competitor, or vendor, or new product, etc.


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