Competitive Intelligence: How to Gauge the Time Relevance of Your Data

All the information you gather for competitive intelligence should be future focused; that is, it should help you predict the future and formulate strategies for gaining a competitive edge months or years down the road. Although you can use some old information and insights to predict the future (for example, a CEO’s past decisions may provide insight into future decisions), fresh data is usually more reliable.

When gauging the value of the data you’ve collected, answer the following questions:

  • What percent of your information is less than 12 months old? At least half of your data should be fresh — less than a year old for most areas of research.

    Just because an article has a recent date on it doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is fresh. Some experts may not be up to speed on the latest developments in their area of expertise. This is especially true in legacy situations — when a product or technology has been the standard for a long time. Compare several sources to find out what other experts are saying.

  • What’s the life cycle of the topic you’re studying? Freshness is relative. Intel about some technologies can go out of date within six months, in which case at least 50 percent of your data should be no older than six months.

  • Are you picking up any weak signals that indicate an impending development? Weak signals are bits of information about a subject that give you a hint about an emerging issue but provide little solid information.

    For example, assume that you discover that Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Airlines, has hired an expert in computer storage technology. Because your company is in the storage business, you may want to find out if the expert is going to work on storage of the massive volume of data the airline must keep or, in typical Branson fashion, is he going to start a computer storage technology company?

    If he is, you need to know that as early as possible. By following up on that weak signal, you can possibly anticipate the future competitive move.

    Always follow up on weak signals, which often indicate that something is brewing.

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