The traditional methods of competitive intelligence (CI) in the 70s, 80s and 90s involved designating an inside team and assigning them the sole task of CI research. These teams worked with their perspective shifting outward, into the world of their competitors, and left the context of their own company behind. It was not immediately relevant to their own jobs to know what was happening in the sales department. Instead, they were solely concerned with the market and business decisions that direct competitors would make. Because of this, competitive intelligence departments often were not able to compare the state of the company to the state of the observed market, and would miss key benchmark indicators, rendering them unable to suspect or predict changes that ultimately negatively impacted the company.
The outward facing model of CI has since faded out of the norm. Eventually companies realized this method is inefficient and unsustainable. When winds change and companies find themselves hitting rough conditions in a market, they might have to make cuts from within their ranks. It is the outward facing CI department that is consistently the first to be cut. A department that solely focuses outside the business does not actively and consistently provide increasing value to that business.
The CI departments became disposable. However, when markets shifted again and the companies had room to grow, then the company would look to hire back a team to focus on competitive intelligence. Routinely firing and hiring entire teams of individuals became wholly ineffective and expensive. Within the last ten years, a shift in thinking about competitive analysis has taken root and continues to grow. Today's CI is a collaborative, internal effort.
CI leverages compiled data — and data is nothing without context. A limited perspective will not create actionable results from which competitive intelligence can become an integral piece of your business model. Incorporating the knowledge from within your company, you will add value to the data you discover about your competitors, and be able to draw conclusions and act on them without much further analysis.
Creating a model for collaboration within your company and pairing that model with tools to facilitate communication of the data and research you compile will make internal CI a beneficial, important piece of each employee function.
Of course, tools must be reliable and effective, or collaboration will not be adopted. Using adaptable interfaces meant for collaboration across teams will be crucial when integrating a modern CI function into your company. In any group effort, however, it is beneficial to have someone leading the way and checking in on the progress of the collaboration. A CI quarterback to help drive motivation, operational efficiency, team adoption and cooperation will keep the goal clear: gain actionable insights from CI.
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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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