Competitive intelligence - pointless without a goal
Thanks to the Internet, more information than ever before is freely available, but if it is not used to answer specific business questions, it has little value.
This is according to Bernard Odendaal, CEO of The Fact Foundry, a global public think tank aimed at being a source of insight for decision-makers.
Odendaal has worked in the competitive intelligence field for over 10 years, and has seen great changes in the quality and volume of information available to decision-makers today.
"The Internet and social media have kicked things into a whole new sphere," he says. "Now, through company Web sites, press releases and social media, there are vast amounts of information available about a company's competitive landscape.
"What it has done is shorten the time period needed to gather relevant competitive intelligence, allowing decisions to be made faster.
Odendaal says, unlike business intelligence (BI), which looks inward at a company, competitive intelligence looks outward to assess the business environment. Competitive intelligence is used for strategic business decisions. It can be applied in product development, for example, when coming to market with new products in the highly competitive technology sector. Or it can be used in due diligence processes in mergers and acquisitions.
The data used is collated from a variety of sources, he says. "It uses traditional research such as Web search and studying industry publications, as well as non-traditional methods of gathering intelligence, such as talking to people at trade shows, having direct interviews, and monitoring social media to make sense of what people are saying about your company and other companies in the same field.
"However, competitive intelligence alone is not a silver bullet," Odendaal notes. "To use it effectively, you need to plan in advance and know what you are looking for."
Odendaal says while there are many solutions to sort and analyse the information gathered, the success of competitive intelligence depends on the interpretation of the information.
"The same information could be interpreted differently and used in many ways," he says. "Contextualisation is very important. And critically - the information must be linked to specific decisions that need to be made. I have seen companies wanting to implement a competitive intelligence system, but it doesn't go anywhere because it is not linked to the specific needs of the company. It amounts to gathering information for no purpose."
Odendaal notes that companies need to define their intelligence needs at the outset: "You must ask what decision you want to make, based on the information."
Bernard Odendaal will speak on competitive intelligence at the ITWeb BI Summit from 26 to 28 February 2013, at The Forum in Bryanston. For more information about this event, click here.