Try introducing yourself as a Competitive Intelligence analyst. Chances are that the reactions will range from
a) Thats what you do all day, Google search?
(b) Identifying 007 ways to look at competition, Corporate Bond?
Of course, one can always resort to the classical definition of Competitive Intelligence (CI). It is defined as the action of defining, gathering, analyzing,and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors, and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers making strategic decisions for an organization.
Given todays dynamic business environment and the rise of disruptive innovators that are challenging traditional business models across industries, this should be the golden age of CI, right? But a look at Google Trends shows this:
Whats gone wrong? Remember that old joke a man was too busy driving to stop for gas? Is that whats ailing CI? Failing to recognize the disruptive innovations that is changing its own game? As the CI ninjas faithfully use the well-known and unchanged frameworks and send out, with unfailing frequency, the key deliverables such as:
- Competitor Profiles
- Wargaming and scenario planning
- Intelligence briefings
do they hear questions like I already knew this, Wheres the insight?, I need something real-time, How can I measure success from my CI investment?, What strategic action can I take now? from the key CI consumers in the business? (Consumers including Strategy, Marketing, Product, Research, Sales teams).
Maybe theres help. From one of its own techniques. Lets hone in on the wargaming technique. Defined as a role-played simulation of a business situation, it involves a set of teams representing a market or customer, a set of competitors, and a series of other uncontrollable factors or entities. If we apply it on CI today, what does the world look like for CI?
1) Customer: Assume, you are part of the Strategy Planning team ofBlackRock Investments, an investment management group analyzing its competitor. When Fortune published its 2013 list of the worlds 50 Most Admired Companies, five among them were 25 years old or less. Four were the usual suspects from the tech land: Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google. And there was BlackRock, formed in 1988, a Financial Services company. $4.3T in assets. But the CEO has still set a target for 5% organic growth y-o-y. Is that achievable? Thats the question. Can a clear understanding of who and why we are doing CI help in the first step of defining CI better per the classical definition? Our customer here is the Strategy team, not Marketing, not Sales, not Product. Thats critical for the CI analyst to know.
2) Set of competitors: Assume your usual deliverable is a detailed competitor profile on BlackRock. Is that enough? What could change the competition for your BlackRock profile and provide the real insight the customer asked for?
a) Automation and real-time monitoring in CI: Annual report, investor presentations, earnings transcripts, SEC filings, fund performance data from SimFund, eVestment, Morningstar, analyst views, industry news from Financial Times, Investment News, Pension and Investments. Phew. An ocean of data the CI analyst needs to wade through to even start attacking the problem.
Luckily there is help. Tools such as Feedly can help automate the newsfeeds and personalize the news the CI analyst can read to remove all the additional noise that can result in data drip (data rich, insight poor).
And then there are tools such as ClearCI which use all the CI sources and provide automated monitoring dashboards for CI.
Could such tools help in step 2 of the CI definition: information gathering?
b) Digital analysis in CI: Digital data has unleashed a new surge of tools that claim to track all digital competitive data from social mentions, text analysis of online product feedback to understanding keywords that drive traffic.
Imagine adding these to step 3 of CI, the analysis stage in the traditional CI definition. You could check what customers are saying about BlackRock, which funds are they advertising more and which ones are bringing in more traffic. Can this enriched analysis make CI more predictive?
c) Visualization in CI: Once a data-provider like Bloomberg, which is also a competitor for CI today, providing powerful, interactive visualization of the key industry and competitor statistics that earlier used to consume hours of excel and powerpoint time. On a single scroll, you can look at the marketshare, the historical financial performance of BlackRock vs. competitors.
Spooked? But why wait for Bloomberg, anyone with a visualization like Tableau can use this technique for the final step, easier distribution of CI as per the classical definition.
Of course there are other uncontrollable factors, as always, in a wargame. But by holistically looking at the customer and the competition for itself, can CI make itself more relevant in todays world?
Lets go back to the question that we were trying to answer on BlackRocks growth target. Equity fund performance, management changes, retail build out of BlackRock are few of the themes that the CI analyst would hopefully get through the wargaming exercise and the plethora of tools. These themes could then be analyzed in more detail to assess the key drivers and the impact contributors and then monitor only those, real-time, interactively, to understand the real game.
Can all this make CI more relevant? The tools will help for sure. But the real reason why the interest in CI seems to be declining is not just the emergence of new tools and techniques. It is the lack of real predictive insight from CI that companies can use to drive strategy and and stop freezing Kodak moments forever. Vincent Barabbas classical book on Kodaks failure named The Decision Loom brought home this point powerfully. Wargame or no wargame, can CI analysts bring back the strategy in CI?
Would love to hear your comments and thoughts.
Note: The tools mentioned in this post are just indicative, they are not meant to be an exhaustive list.