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Competitive Intelligence A critical tool for AD and Federal leadership to bring clarity to strategic planning

Derek Heiss

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March 22, 2017

  • The Federal Government regularly fails to fully fund itself, relying instead on continuing resolutions ("CRs") to fund operations.
  • CRs, and other destabilizing factors, create daunting and enduring ambiguity for leaders in the aerospace & defense (“A&D”) community.
  • A critical tool at the A&D and Federal contracting community’s disposal to address these challenges is Competitive Intelligence (“CI”) analysis.

For what seems like as long as collective memory allows, the Federal Government has not enacted the regular appropriations bills needed to fully fund itself. According to a recent Congressional Research Service study, 1997 was the last time all 11 to 13 of these bills were enacted before the 1-Oct annual deadline. In the two decades since, what has become the norm is a measure which constitutes anything but the norm: continuing resolutions (“CRs”).

CRs are the heavily relied upon stop-gap solutions used to fund government agencies and their activities until movement on regular budgetary appropriations is completed, if ever. In the last 20 years, congress has passed, on average, just one of the 11-13 appropriations bills and has consequently relied on an average of five CRs per year for funding (100+ total during that time). The average duration of each CR has historically been no more than 25 days.

A 25-day planning horizon for most anything is a challenge, not to mention the numerous other destabilizing factors like budget cuts, hiring freezes, furloughs, debates over the debt-ceiling, sequestration, and complete government shutdowns that have also been at play over the same time period.

If anything has been consistent about Federal budgeting since the late-90s, it is the enculturated uncertainty and short-term thinking in which agencies across the government are forced to engage.  Federal decision makers are now long accustomed to being cornered into a reactive survivalist mentality, rather than be positioned to comprehensively strategize and plan for the long-term.

A Climate of Uncertainty

This climate also creates daunting and enduring ambiguity for leaders in the aerospace & defense (“A&D”) community and the broader Federal marketplace, at-large. It is as difficult as ever to offer solutions to address demand in the marketplace, so long as customers themselves are hard-pressed to look beyond the short-term.

To thrive, business leaders must look for ways to know their challenges, understand their environments, and recognize what makes their decision-making agency partners and customers tick to reduce uncertainty and ultimately craft a strategic path forward.

A critical tool at the A&D and Federal contracting community’s disposal to address these challenges is Competitive Intelligence (“CI”) analysis. CI is a solution that seeks to deliver clarity by providing actionable insights about a company’s market, customers, and competitors to facilitate the decision-making and forward-thinking strategic processes of an organization.

Strategic Planning with Competitive Intelligence

CI equips companies with the size and forecast growth of addressable market opportunities.  It also pinpoints the specific drivers that define a market’s growth trajectory and where underserved segments of a market exist. Within various market segments, CI looks at customer sets in terms of their key challenges and broader strategic goals (detailing considerations such as purchasing criteria and processes, time frames, customer perceptions, barriers to entry and investment considerations). CI also maps relevant competitive landscapes; how each player is differentiated, who is established and who is emerging, as well as the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, pricing strategies and strategic intent that each player possesses.

Underpinning the numerous insights that Competitive Intelligence can deliver is ultimately the fundament goal to deliver a deeper understanding of a volatile commercial environment to support an organization’s plans for the future.

The recent release of the first budget proposal from the Trump Administration has predictably been welcomed by some and concurrently criticized by others. The first budget proposal from a new White House, of course, always has the potential to set a new tone for otherwise stagnant funding discussions, however, initial feedback suggests this proposal will realistically do little to turn the prevalent government funding mindset on its head.

With the probable reality that the new Administration ushers in nominal newness and possibly added uncertainty and instability to the government budgeting process and broader public sector business environment, companies active in this space will need to continue to look for ways to anticipate shifts in the market and competitive environment, and most importantly, find ways to continuously deliver value to the agencies and constituencies they serve.


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Insights from Derek Heiss, Director of Consulting at Cipher - Derek Heiss is the Director of Cipher’s Consulting Practice and is specialized in competitive intelligence and market strategy consulting for Aerospace & Defense and Federal organizations. Cipher is a consulting and technology firm, based in Annapolis, with a 20+ year track record of delivering solutions to the Fortune 500 and Global 1,000.

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Derek Heiss
Derek Heiss

Derek Heiss is the Director of Cipher’s Consulting Practice and is specialized in competitive intelligence and market strategy consulting. Cipher is a consulting and technology firm, based in Annapolis, with a 20+ year track record of delivering solutions to the Fortune 500 and Global 1,000.

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