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What It Takes to Be Successful in Competitive Intelligence

To gain information advantage from competitive intelligence, you must engage in a continuous four-step process that involves planning, gathering information, analyzing the information, and formulating and executing strategies.

As strategies are developed and implemented, additional intelligence is required to fine-tune the strategies, address any issues that arise, and constantly monitor ever-changing conditions for new opportunities and threats.

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How to plan for competitive intelligence

Planning involves determining the intelligence that’s needed in order to make well-informed decisions and identifying the sources where you’re most likely to find the best information. Planning enables you to target your search and narrow the scope so the information you gather is more relevant to its intended purpose.

Every CI assignment is different. During the initial planning stage, you’re usually trying to find out who the final client is (often the CEO or a department head), the urgency of the project (if the client is the CEO, then urgency is usually high), the projected impact of the issue under study, and the funding available for the project.

The upfront understanding of the key issues behind the project is very important because these key issues usually drive the project’s design.

During the planning phase, the CI team needs to understand the decisions executives will be making and consult with decision makers to determine the type of intelligence they need. Their needs may be general (monitoring the industry for any emerging technologies that are likely to drive future innovations) or specific (a question they need answered or a problem they’re trying to solve).

During the planning stage, everyone involved must also address which information sources are most relevant. If CI is tasked with monitoring developing technologies, it may be looking at patent applications, trade magazines, newsgroup discussions, and other sources to pick up on any buzz about new technologies. If the industry is heavily regulated, CI may be asked to monitor relevant legislation and lawsuits that may pose challenges or open new opportunities.

When planning to gather CI, the team also needs to consider deadlines in respect to the time required to tap certain resources. For example, if a manager has a three-week timeline for making a decision, and a freedom-of-information request is likely to take two months or longer to produce the required intelligence, then the CI team needs to explore other sources.

How to conver information into meaningful competitive intelligence

You have a huge database of high-value information. So what? Now that you’ve acquired the information, how can you use it to create opportunities for profit and growth? The goal of analysis is to transform raw information into meaningful intelligence that guides strategic planning.

After collecting the information, you’re ready for the analysis stage, which basically involves the following three steps, or see-mean-do (SMD):

  1. Observe (see).

    Ask yourself the question, “What do I see?” Try to summarize the information in a single sentence without reading into it.

  2. Interpret (mean).

    Ask yourself, “What does this mean?” or “Why?”

  3. Act (do).

    After you figure out the underlying reasons for a certain event, you need to determine what response is appropriate. You’re not actually doing anything here other than coming up with one or more recommendations for a decision maker or executive to follow through on. However, you do need to develop clear and clever recommendations and spend some time developing a pitch to convince leadership of the need to take action.

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