How to Conduct a Competitive Intelligence Needs Assessment

A competitive intelligence (CI) needs assessment sheds light on your own internal CI goals and on the investment you need to make in CI to remain competitive:

  • Investment: Begin your assessment by looking at your competitors and asking the following questions:

    • Do they have a formal CI function and the infrastructure in place to put intelligence into action?

    • What do they do to gather and analyze data?

    • How much money do they spend on CI?

    Of course, even answering these questions requires CI.

  • Goals: Ask yourself and your organization’s leaders how quality CI could serve the executive team, the marketing/sales team, and even human resources (HR). Think of CI as a customer-service organization. Your customers are your organization’s decision makers. Interview executives and managers to find out what sort of information and intelligence they need in order to make better decisions.

After you have an overall assessment, look more closely at what you need in terms of data collection and management, analysis, and execution.

How to take stock of your competitive intelligence data-collection resources

CI is valuable on an ad hoc basis; for example, to answer a specific question or solve a problem. But it’s more valuable if it’s systematic and continuous, when it’s used to monitor conditions and predict the likelihood of certain events. The farther into the future your CI can see, the more opportunities your organization has to attain and maintain market leadership.

Effective CI begins with planning (deciding what issues you need to investigate and which sources are likely to have the information you need). Planning leads to gathering, analysis, and execution, but that cycle only leads to more planning. Conditions are always changing, new opportunities and threats are always on the horizon, and you always have room for improvement, so approach CI as a system that continuously generates future-focused intelligence.

To ensure that data collection is systematic and ongoing, you need procedures and technology in place to store, organize, and validate the data. Specifically, your organization must have the following:

  • A formal process for gathering data: Data collection typically involves everyone in the organization, including executives, managers, marketing personnel, sales agents, and customer-service reps. Some data collection can be automated through customer relationship management (CRM) software.

    In a perfect world, everyone in the organization needs to be trained to recognize the types of data to collect and how to input that data into the system or transfer it over to CI. However, that may not always be possible.

    Emphasis initially should be placed on individuals with outward-facing roles in the organization, such as sales, marketing, and customer service. You may also have procedures for gathering external data and input from experts and expert panels.

  • Technology and procedures for storing and indexing data: Your organization needs a secure, central database in which all intelligence is stored and accessible to analysts and personnel who use the information.

  • Procedures in place for validating data: As you collect data, you need formal procedures to separate fact from fiction, filter out irrelevant and misleading information, and gauge the relative value of data and data sources. For example, you may want to use a triangulation procedure to make sure that any data is backed up by two other reliable sources before it’s taken into consideration.

How to assess your data-interpretation expertise for competitive intelligence

Take a look at existing personnel who you think may be qualified to analyze your CI and ask two questions:

  • Do they have the innate ability to analyze intelligence? An analyst is naturally curious, observant, skeptical, and of course, analytical. Some folks just don’t have what it takes, and training is no substitute.

  • Do they have the training that will make them effective? Training is available in the form of college-level courses, certification programs, seminars and webinars, conferences, journals and magazines, and web-based resources including websites and blogs. A good place to start looking for additional training and education is at SCIP (Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals).

If you don’t have the necessary talent in-house, you may need to outsource analysis to a consulting firm or hire an analyst to fill the position.

How to review your strategic readiness for competitive intelligence

Strategic readiness is the ability to act on intelligence. It’s a reflection of four broad areas:

  • Leadership that fosters creativity and discovery

  • A culture that rewards personal initiative

  • Values that focus on integrity, empowerment, and recognition

  • A preoccupation with being exceptional as individuals and as an organization

Strategic readiness doesn’t happen overnight. Leaders in the company must make a persistent effort to build a community that’s committed to quality and the vitality of the organization.

How to audit your execution systems and strategies for competitive intelligence

Your organization is probably engaged in CI to some degree. But to ensure that you’re able to use intelligence to the fullest, you need to be able to confidently answer yes to the following questions:

  • Does the intelligence report from the CI team or one of its analysts describe a clear call to action? CI needs to progress from just showing information and insight to indicating what actions may be taken. Although CI usually lacks the authority to actually execute a strategic initiative, it should offer one or more ways the organization can respond to a perceived threat or opportunity.

  • Is the information communicated in such a way that the reader can quickly understand the level of urgency attached to it?

  • Is your information getting to the right people?

  • Are you observing positive action (execution) in response to the information that’s provided?

If you answer no to any of these questions, you’re probably facing a problem with communication or resistance to change. If you answered no to any of the first three questions, your problem is with communication.

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