How to Implement the Issue-Management System in Competitive Intelligence

Competitive intelligence serves as your organization’s radar. As you monitor the global environment, you begin to pick up signals. When you pick up a signal, the first task is to classify it as strong or weak. Then you analyze the impact of the information at hand.

The issue-management system can be summarized by these key points:

  • Strong signals indicate a level of certainty. If impact analysis reveals that the issue is high or moderate, then urgent action is necessary.

  • Weak signals are ambiguous and usually involve issues that are at least six months into the future. Depending on the predicted velocity of change, the firm usually has time to figure out what the weak signal indicates and preemptively prepare for the event.

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The CI team leader should work closely with the organization’s leaders to determine the probable impact and urgency of any intel. The CI team leader must serve as a trusted advisor. The decisions are in the hands of the executive team.

How to analyze strong-signal impact

A signal is classified as strong when it’s a clear and reliable predictor of a future event. The strength of the signal has nothing to do with how important that event is. After picking up a strong signal, the next step is to assess the probable impact of the event.

  • High impact: A golden opportunity or serious threat has arisen or is imminent. Immediate action is necessary to exploit the opportunity or avoid the threat (or minimize the fallout), and what needs to be done is fairly clear.

  • Moderate impact: A good opportunity or moderate threat has arisen or is imminent, and you have more time to plan a response. Planning generally involves other departments, including marketing, advertising, and research and development (R&D), depending on what’s involved.

  • Low or unknown impact: The event is unlikely to present a good opportunity or pose a serious threat to your organization.

Strong signals are an indication that your intelligence is substantial and that the resulting opportunity or threat has a very high probability of occurring. However, always be willing to verify the validity of your conclusions and avoid the temptation to accept strong signals as facts at first glance.

How to gauge your response

Your response is directly proportional to the expected impact of the event, but you may still need to consider the costs and benefits of your response:

  • Weigh the costs of taking action against the costs of not taking action. In some cases, the cost to preemptively prepare for a future event may significantly exceed the impact cost. Ask yourself whether the event is worth responding to.

  • Look for alternatives. For example, if you’re looking into adopting a new, expensive technology, you may have several options to consider, including the following:

    • Upgrading the technology that’s already in place: This solution is the least expensive but also possibly the most risky if the velocity of change is extremely fast.

    • Using proven leading-edge technology: Wait until someone else invests the big bucks in the bleeding-edge option and buy yourself some time to see how that plays out for your competitor. In the meantime, costs may drop and other better or more reliable technologies may become available. This is the middle-of-the-road solution from a risk and cost standpoint.

    • Investing in bleeding-edge technology: Invest the big bucks to gain a momentary advantage. This solution is the most costly but may be necessary if failing to implement the technology will give a competitor a significant momentary advantage.

How to assess the urgency of strong signal intelligence

To determine the urgency of strong-signal intelligence, consult the following three groups:

  • The executive team, including the CEO, because executive team members have access to information about future strategies and plans that could influence just how urgent a response to intel may be

  • The internal support team, which should include senior managers

  • CI team members, who should include people from every key functional and product area of the firm

Gauging the urgency of strong signals may be difficult for the CI team, especially if the team doesn’t have a complete picture of the firm’s future strategy. Senior management, marketing, and R&D have been known to keep major developments and plans secretive.

If possible, CI needs to be kept in the loop regarding all the organization’s strategic areas of operation. Just imagine the damage that can result if your company releases a product without knowing that a competitor has a superior version in the works.

A good way to keep the CI team on track while the executive team keeps highly sensitive information confidential is for the CI team to provide a fairly frequent briefing document to a senior executive who’s “in the know.”

How to analyze weak-signal impact

Weak signals characterize the nature of about 98 percent of the information a CI team receives. Although these signals can be ambiguous, weak-signal analysis can be the source of the real gold in the intelligence gathering and analysis process. To determine whether weak signals point to gold or fool’s gold, you need to assess the possible impact of the event on your organization.

  • High impact: When weak signals point to high-impact issues, you need to give your executive team and R&D and marketing folks a heads-up immediately so they can assess the situation and collaborate with CI to obtain additional information.

  • Moderate impact: Depending on the anticipated event, you may want to loop in the executive team or continue to monitor the situation and perform additional research until you detect stronger signals.

  • Low or unknown impact: You can usually ignore events that have low or no impact on your organization.

The more preemptively you can deal with change in your current operating environment, the better your chances of capitalizing on an opportunity or steering clear of catastrophe. But be careful about responding too soon or too dramatically.

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