How to Cross-Index Competitive Intelligence Resources

By James D. Underwood

Some sources that you use for competitive intelligence may reference more than one category of information. For example, a document about distributors may mention a new technology that improves efficiency and cuts costs.

The question then becomes whether you should index the data under distributors or technology. The answer? Index it under both; in other words, cross-index the data so it appears whenever someone searches for data on distributors or technology.

Cross-indexing systems vary depending on the storage and retrieval system you have in place. If you’re using a fancy database program, you may simply have check box options for each category and subcategory you want to index for a specific piece of information. If you’re using index cards or a spreadsheet application, the process goes something like this:

  1. Start with the title of the article.

    The article title should appear at the top of the index card or in the first field of the spreadsheet or database record.

  2. Add information about the source, including its name and date.

    If you’re creating a spreadsheet or database entry, enter the source name and date in separate fields.

  3. Add your name or the name of the CI team member (analyst) who reviewed the source and supplied the information.

  4. Add a major category to each index card or record in your spreadsheet.

    Major categories may include competitors, suppliers, and distributors.

  5. Add relevant subcategories to each index card or record in your spreadsheet.

    Subcategories may include technology, leadership, products, and acquisitions. Each index card or spreadsheet entry should contain one major category along with one or more subcategories.

  6. For each piece of CI you gather, add a summary or brief description of the source and information.

    The summary or description helps you assess the relevance and value of the information for your current project. If you’re storing this information in a computer database, the summary is often referred to as meta data — text that describes the information you’re indexing. Meta data serves as tags to help find the information later.


Products and technology are usually closely related, so always consider possible cross-indexing of product and technology categories.

Make a habit of indexing at the point and time of analysis. In other words, as soon as you realize that a source mentions more than one research area, create a record for all relevant areas. Otherwise, you forget about it later, and the item gets lost in the thousands of intelligence documents you have on file.