Curbing competitive intelligence dissapointment

If you see two competitive intelligence folks talking to each other, you can guess the conversation. One is telling the other about how the Big Boss has just paid them a visit. The BB had heard some very juicy, surprising, and disturbing news. The BB had come down to inquire how they’d happened to miss the briefing on this item. The CI guy had to explain he’d heard nothing about it. The BB replied with the obvious: Why do we have you here if you’re not going to find this stuff out for us?

I suspect everyone who’s ever done competitive intelligence work has had this moment, probably many times. CI is often sold as an asset that will prevent surprises, and when surprises still happen it’s no wonder those in charge ask why.

The problem isn’t that CI is ineffective, it’s that it’s not implemented properly.

I think the problem is that while CI can help with surprises, the mechanism is different than people often expect. First, let’s look at the method that doesn’t work. The one that grew out of traditional military thinking.why the traditional thinking doesn’t work so well for business.

CI grew out of military intelligence, and much of traditional CI doctrine comes from that history. After all, business is war, right? Well, not really.

In the military intelligence is gathered at the bottom. The folks in the field, the people observing the enemy, people sifting through data gathered from everywhere. It has to be this way, because the leadership of opposing sides either isn’t talking to each other, or isn’t saying much if they are. After all, if they got along they probably wouldn’t need to spy on each other quite so much, right?

So intelligence is gathered at the bottom, analyzed in the middle, and presented to the top. Obama isn’t on the ground in Afghanistan, so he’s got to rely on the people who are.

Business has a better mechanism.

Opposing leaders not only chat with each other on a regular basis – through trade associations, trade shows, charity work, and other occasions, they probably have a rapport with each other. They probably have much in common. Business is not war – the leader we vanquish tomorrow could show up as the CEO of our best customer tomorrow – and everyone knows this. This is the reason that the traditional bottom-up CI mentality is probably going to fail in being the source of all new juicy stuff. It’s not that it is inherently flawed, it’s that there is a more effective mechanism at work int he business world.

Who has a better chance of hearing of a possible new direction or intention? The guy who’s got a rapport with the target CEO and is having dinner with him tonight, or or someone a few layers down who might hear the same news as a rumor filtered downward through the target chain of command, and back upward through their own COC?

That’s why the BB is hearing about it first. That’s not a bad thing, and once it’s understood a CI effort can be rearranged to provide much better value.

In business CI is better seen as a tool for understanding and validating what is learned, not as the source of learning.

Traditional or not, CI folk do have good means to sift through data, consider many facts from disparate sources and validate what is coming in.

Upon hearing something new, the BB shouldn’t be concerned that she heard it first. Instead she should be happy she’s got a CI team who has the time to investigate it, validate it, and tell her what it really means. Was this real? Was it a trial balloon? Or was it just a little polk to get a rise out us?

Leaders need to realize they not just consumers of intelligence, they’re sources of it.

Until they realize this, and leverage it, they will be disappointed.

What should SCIP do?

A while back Ellen asked me to suggest what scip should do.

I’ve thought about this for quite a while, and until I read SCIP’s mission and goals, I really couldn’t articulate what was wrong. Having read them, now I can.

When I read SCIP’s mission and goals, it’s clear to me that there’s not much focus on increasing value for members or their employers. Instead the focus is on increasing recognition for SCIP and CI. The problem is that without value there isn’t anything to recognize. I left SCIP because it stopped adding value to me and my employer and became impossible to justify.

Things like certification, codes of ethics, and having a Body of Knowledge sound good, but they don’t help members or their employers thrive or even survive.

Consider what SCIP stands for: Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals. The emphasis is on the professional, not the profession. Compare that with ASQ, or AMA, or BMA.

When I used to work for a ~100 million company, I was asked to create a CI function. It was in conjunction with pricing, not a dedicated position. A sensible move. Based on the reactions I got from others, and observations, I think it’s pretty odd to have a formal CI effort in a company that small, let alone a dedicated person. But for the sake of argument let’s say that $100 million is the minimum company size to have a dedicated CI professional. $100 million companies and larger account for about .2% of the total number of companies out there – an unneccessary limit on market size, and a huge loss in potential value to bring.

Focus on the value created by the profession, not the recognition of the profession.

Let’s look at a few graphs. First, competitive intelligence’s popularity as a search string in google:

A decline. Not usually the sign of something that is increasing in value.

Let’s compare with business intelligence (red line):

Ouch! A nice reality check. I tend to think of business intelligence folk as IT report writers, but really it’s understanding your business and companies are interested in that.

Then let’s add market research:

Ok, no wonder when you say competitive intelligence most people say ‘Huh?’ Competition is only part of one’s market so we shouldn’t be surprised. Also notice the downward trend, even in market research.

Google trends is not the final word, but I think the data are useful because they help put things in perspective. CI can be useful, but it’s not a solution. It’s part of the solution, and a part that needs to earn its keep.

The most valuable stuff I ever did in CI fed middle managers who used to make profitable decisions almost immediately. It was also some of the cheapest & easiest stuff I did. It wasn’t glamorous, and it didn’t even brush against the c-suite, but it didn’t need to. There needs to be a strong focus on creating value whereever possible. If the value’s there, the recognition will follow.

The value needs to be accessible. Real world stuff that non-PhD, non-ex-CIA people can do and it needs to address the needs of companies that exist in large numbers. This means small companies who will NEVER have someone do CI full time. Pharma, insurance, aerospace and giant consumer products companies have a strong interest in CI, t the CI approaches & budgets of those companies are irrelevant to 99% of the companies out there. They’re not a useful example to anyone but their peers.

So what to do?

How about this mission and these goals:

Mission: SCIP will show companies how to enable better decisions through competitive intelligence by educating their staff, providing guidance in ethics, and enabling them to learn from the community they form through SCIP.

Goal 1: Make CI accessible to more companies

  • Increase the usage of CI by smaller companies through education and outreach.
  • Create membership opportunities aimed at the part-time practitioner.

Goal 2: Increase the value CI brings

  • Education practioners on how to identify and communicate the value intelligence brings to decision making.
  • Educate practioners on how to identifiy and anticipate situations where intelligence can bring value.
  • Educate practioners on how to obtain the intelligence they need to bring value.

A Critical Element in BlackBerry vs. iPhone

Or maybe “Should Be A Critical Element…” Because American business by and large doesn’t really care about security very much.

Thanks to Bruce Schneier we learn that the Indians are pushing to get the encryption keys to RIM’s BlackBerry system. What this means is that the messages sent to BlackBerrys in the field could be decrypted by the Indian government. Strangely, only non-corporate users are at risk for now.

How long do you think it will be before other governments get the keys in exactly the same way as the Indians did? How long do you think it will be before a corporate user is thought to be enough of a security concern that even corporate users must turn over keys?

The reason why this is significant for the BlackBerry vs iPhone situation is that the iPhone works differently. It doesn’t pass all messages through a server. It behaves like a computer connected to the internet, with a regular email client. So, as soon as someone is allowed to create an email client with encryption capabilities we will have secure mobile email. Apple has released the iPhone SDK, and is expected to unveil applications along with an improved version of the iPhone in June. It might even happen that Apple builds encryption into the mail client themselves.

The problem for RIM is that there is no way to do full decryption on the BlackBerry without doing it on their server, at least with their current software. Creating this after making deals with governments to provide access will be impossible.

So, if you believe in having privacy, and you conduct business overseas, it looks like BlackBerry isn’t the best choice.

More competitive intelligence in printing?

I’m at Print Outlook 2008 in New York City, and I noticed during Andrew Paparozzi’s presentation on commercial printing in 2008, based on survey results, that there were several themes revolving around competition. Print is more competitive than ever, and he stressed differentiation and not doing things just because competitors were doing them.

Will this drive an increased interest in competitive intelligence in printing? My experience is that this is one industry where CI hasn’t really taken hold, at least not in the same way as in medical/pharma and other industries. Perhaps as print gets more competitive and more dependent on innovation and positioning we will see a growing demand for CI in print.

Goodbye, SCIP

I just got my renewal notice for The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, and I’ve decided not to renew. While SCIP does have a few small benefits, the organization really doesn’t do much to serve its members, and at $400 a year the magazine isn’t really worth it. Their annual conference is good for networking, but at $2,500+ it’s also not a great value. I’ve also come to the conclusion that SCIP has lost touch with its market, and it’s time to look elsewhere.

I’ve heard that the MRIA, or Market Research Intelligence Association is a more effective organization, as is the CI arm of the American Marketing Association. Anyone have any opinions?

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On using wikis & blogs in sales…

My friend Matt Kelly, of Strategy Software, makers of the best CI software on the planet asks:

What are your thoughts on the use of wikis and blogs in the sales force?

My answer:

Authors write. Others read…maybe.

As someone who has used blogs, wikis and other semantic publishing tools both successfully and unsuccessfully I can tell you that the first rule is to never implement a system that relies on someone writing content without first identifying some very enthusiastic writers.

These can be really useful tools. Just don’t rely on an audience to provide the content.

Social Networking Systems as CI Tools

I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t gotten to posting this until now. Back in February I wrote an article for Competitive Intelligence magazine, titled Social Networking Systems as Competitive Intelligence Tools. It finally came out in the July/August issue, and they’ve encouraged me to put it up here. It’s my first ink on paper article, and I’m happy to finally see it!

As I suppose is always the case when there’s 6-months between writing and publication on a subject as dynamic as online social networking systems (Linkedin, OpenBC and the like), there are going to be some changes. Linkedin found and shut off the feature that allowed people to see the true number of connections that people have, [UPDATE: A friend let me know tonight that it still works for name search] and have also started to crack down on the number of profiles that can be viewed in a given time period, limiting the usefulness of LICM.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy it!

powered by performancing firefox shutting down?

UPDATE: Ok, I had two folks saying it worked for them, so I thought perhaps it was me. Well, it was. Not me exactly, but the cookies on my machine. Not my machine, exactly, but on my USB drive that holds the copy of Portable Firefox that I use. I discovered that when I tried HighBeam without using the cookie, it worked. I could log in, and it still worked. But if it saw one of several cookies on my usual installation, it didn’t work. I deleted the cookies, and that fixed it. Go figure. has long been a very cost effective way to get access to all kinds of published material, and because of that I’ve used it for research many times.

However, the past week it only returns an error when I try to use it:

An error occurred on the page you were attempting to view. This error has been logged
and will be reviewed by our technical staff. We apologize for the inconvenience.

I’ve tried to contact them via email, but there’s been no response. I’ve tried calling their Chicago office, and the voice menus work, but nobody was picking up at customer service so I left a voicemail for the receptionist (who was unavailable).

Does anyone know if these guys have gone out of business?

New online forum –

While I was at the SCIP conference I was able to meet several folks from Strategy Software, who make several products I use. We talked about their products and their features, and we also ended up talking about creating a user’s group.

There were a few of us “power users” there, and everyone seemed to think it was a good idea. It was one of those discussions where everyone’s nodding, but no one is talking about what they’re going to do, so I volunteered to put it together.

So on the way home in the airport I found a spot with free wi-fi and set to work. One of the things I really love about the internet is how quickly things can be done. In less than an hour I had found software (PHPBB) and had uploaded it to my web servers, defined the forums, thought up a name (poorly chosen and later changed), written posts, and emailed the others about it.

That was Friday, and Saturday I registered a domain, cleaned up the site, set up security on the Strategy Software forums (they’re for licensees only) and wrote more posts. Since then the domain as changed to The folks from Strategy Software have been participating, and now we have 48 articles and 10 users.

But that’s not enough!

So, please come and have a look when you can! is a place where CI professionals and others involved in research or information security can network and discuss issues that are important to them, as well as their experience with Strategy Software products. It’s still in it’s infancy, so now’s the time to get in on the ground floor!

On Blogger’s Block

I’ve been really suffering from blogger’s block lately. The posts just haven’t been flowing, and every time I come up with some idea, after a few sentences I find myself asking who on earth really cares anyway. Definitely not good criteria for a blog post!

Anyway, I got an email today from Des Walsh, who’d linked to my recent post on the birthday of Lornitropia. In particular he pinged on my advice to those thinking about blogging, which can be summarized as “just do it”. I love getting linked to like any red-blooded blogger, so I naturally checked out Des’s site as well. I should have done so a lot sooner, seeing as we’re both members of a few Linkedin groups, but I digress.

So there on his blog is a post about blogger’s block, along with a well-worn trick:

1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

Ok, I confess that the first book I picked up was Access 2000 Developer’s Handbook, Volume 1: Desktop Edition. The fifth sentence on page 123 is “Using subqueries and union queries”. Yuk.

So I turned my chair and grabbed the next book at hand, Good to Great by Jim Collins. The sentence there is: The idea, radical for the 1960s, was to create a system wherein every Abbot manager in every type of job was responsible for his or her return on investment, with the same rigor that an investor holds an entrepreneur responsible.

This is the kind of thing that seems profound. Well, any new concept in business that includes a reference to entrepreneurs has got to be pretty good, right? Usually. However, in an organization that is introspective, where folks really love to measure stuff, calculating return on investment for something intangible, say, a competitive intelligence function, can create the institutional equivelant of the blue screen of death. Intangible benefits always defy the quantitative analysis required for ROI analysis, but nobody ever wants to guess about these things.

I think one of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned while creating a competitive intelligence function for my company is the concept of actionability. If the piece of information you’re looking for will not provoke or enable some kind of action upon its discovery, you really need to question why you’re looking for it. Consider the average company with the numerous reports that are created. Reports to convey how things are going, reports created so that when so-and-so wants to see how Outer Baldonia’s feedback modulator division did they can just go to page 12 and find out. Reports intended to keep other people honest or busy through deterrence, etc. You’ve been asked to create these reports, you’ve probably even suggested or asked to have them made. You really weren’t trying to derail the business at the time, you were trying to do something good, I’m sure. So was I. But are these things actionable?

Along with that, when you need to take action or a decision – like deciding whether to chastise some manager based on ROI – you have to remember that the goal is action, and pursue information on that basis. Don’t get background for 6 companies “just for comparison” when only 1 company’s worth will enable the action. If it’s a pass/fail question, with a pass/fail answer, shades of grey simply don’t pay for their computation.

Gather/compile/report only info that serves a purpose. When gathering/compiling/reporting for a purpose, stop when the purpose is served.