Competitive Intelligence

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

One of the problems for CI professionals in selling the concept of CI is to show doubting management the value that CI can offer. One approach is to show what can happen when intelligence is lacking (i.e. CI failures). A more positive approach is through publicly available case studies - show how intelligence led to success.

The trouble is that most companies appear not to want to show such case studies. How about having a section where these can be shared?

To start the ball rolling, one thing i like doing is trying to see evidence of good CI in company successes reported in the press. The idea for this discussion came from a report in the London Times today about differences in pay between cabin crew in British Airways, vs. Virgin. This article showed that British Airways paid its cabin crew, on average, twice what Virgin's cabin crew received. As a source of competitive advantage, this potentially gives Virgin a major benefit and i'd be very surprised if they hadn't used such a differential in their competitive planning.

The reason i'm saying this is that i've been watching how Virgin seems to outwit British Airways over the years. They often seem to be one-step-ahead of their main UK rival and I don't believe it's done by chance, but, instead, by a good awareness of their competition and what it's doing.

Another Virgin / BA example was from a number of years ago when BA was accused of poaching Virgin's passengers and more in what became known as a BA "dirty-tricks" scandal. What was never stated was how Virgin found out what BA was doing. I think it shows brilliant counter-intelligence and competitor awareness. (Battle of the Airlines: King 'backed dirty tricks': BA staff hacked... and 1993: BA dirty tricks against Virgin cost £3m)

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Thanks Arthur for starting this discussion - I think it's brilliant! I'll start thinking about cases to share as I quite agree that funding of a CI program is often based on the removing of uncertainty around expectations of success in its pursuit. But I also agree it's tough to get people to share their specifics so I like the idea of collaborating on "open cases" like the Virgin/BA situation where one can only assume CI plays a role in their success but many of us might be able to contribute details about it so no one individual needs to worry about posting something confidential.

I will however suggest that perhaps a wiki might be a better method for this if that's what you have in mind Arthur. I've been looking at the ability to add a wiki here to this site and I've almost got it cracked so will push ahead in finishing that effort in the event you agree it would be a better method.

- Arik
I'm a great believer in wikis. I personally think that they are not fully utilised within the CI community - but that's another topic. (Instead of a CI database costing $1000s, set up an Intranet using Wiki technology and standard search tools. Easier and cheaper, and can allow information sharing across the organisation without having to worry about paying additional subscriptions just because you want to give 100 more people access to the database. Plus anybody can add information - so long as they are given access. The key thing is access control and moderation).
Hi Arik and Arthur: This is another well-needed contribution that would benefit this community. I can tell you from having taught who knows how many practitioners (present and future) through the years that these "case studies" (broadly defined) really hammer home in peoples' minds the practical value of CI. Our field has been plagued by the desire to "keep everything under wraps," likely a vestige of some unknown percentage of practitioners who were trained in and gained their experience in the more established world of national intelligence communities. Having said that, every year we tilt at that holy grail of the magical and mysterious "number" or case that will finally prove CI's worth and put to rest everybody's navel-gazing behavior.

A wiki would be beneficial for these purposes. My questions is whether people will actually be willing to reveal their experiences and "case studies" in a public (or even in constrained/private) forums? My experience and observations suggests this rarely happens when it comes to CI. Let me offer one other related observation. I am fully convinced that some of the best learning and lessons come out of CI failures. Care to guess how many people will be willing to share theirs? I realize more than a few people will be happy to share others' CI failures, usually done in a second or third-hand fashion. Most terrific intelligence analysts I know have mis-stepped now and then, but the best ones have examined, learned and grown from these experiences.
Just let me remind you that I started a discussion right on the subject of CI failures here at Ning a few weeks ago. For a better referral I claimed the domain I'd be happy for additional contributions!
Arthur - well done to start this discussion. I agree with Craig that some people might have problems talking about their CI successes and failures however maybe for those of us who have been around for a very long time, we might be able to talk about some particular cases. Having undertaken CI now for over 18 years I am free to talk about cases that are over 10 years old - actual consulting assignments.

For example, 10 years ago, Uncle Toby's, a large cereal manufacturer in Australia (today it is owned by Nestle) wanted to know more about their major competitor, Kellogs. We were briefed on this project by the CEO. Firstly we found all the information that they needed for this particular project within their own organisation. Just no one seemed to talk to anyone else across the functional areas of the business!

Secondly what was fascinating was that we found out that twelve months previously, Uncle Tobys had been approached by a small Australian firm specialising in particular cereal bars, looking to sell out. Uncle Toby's had around 70+% of the market. They did their due diligence and between the lawyers and the accountants, they decided it was not a good purchase. The price I believe being discussed at the time was $15 million. They did not do any CI at the time of this possible acquisition - just lawyers and accountants.

So who bought this player? Why Kellogs of course!! This purchased allowed Kellogs to enter the cereal bars market and compete head on with Uncle Tobys. One year later, Kellogs had a market share of around 36% (this equates to well over $15 million). Guess where that market share came from?

However, I suspect that many people might comment that these are old cases and not applicable to today's issues!! (like the case of BA's dirty tricks - it was 1993 and they still have not changed!!) For the more "recent" cases maybe we can always leave out the names to protect the innocent?


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