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At the Ohio State University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship earlier this month, Cipher's Beau Oliver, was invited to participate in an event that posed a provocative question, “Competitive Intelligence & Innovation: Can you do one successfully without the other in today's economy?” Along with Dr. Dale Cooper, Corporate Manager of Competitive and Technical Intelligence at Procter & Gamble, a discussion with an audience of over 70 business leaders explored the role that trend monitoring, scenario planning, war gaming, and competitive intelligence can play in the strategic management of a company’s innovation portfolio.

Innovation in products, technologies, business models, and processes can topple market leaders -- particularly larger organizations that lack the agility to react quickly. Anticipating market disruptions is an essential, but difficult exercise. It requires the ability to reevaluate your business model in the midst of success, and continuously challenge perceptions and cognitive biases. “Business as usual,” often results in little business in the future. Beau, highlighted two ways that organizations can incorporate out-of-the-box thinking to better understand their markets and drive innovation.

Scenario Planning and Wargaming
Wargaming is a competitive scenario exercise that allows teams to delve deeper into identified opportunities, threats, and potential market outcomes. War games provide a means to gain a better understanding of market shifts and how they will impact competitor actions. Some examples of questions in the innovation process that can be answered with wargaming include:

  • Which identified disruptors and market outcomes will be most impactful on our business? Which are the biggest threat?
  • For a given market event or competitor action, how will competitors respond?
  • How will a disruption change the market environment?
  • How might competitors respond to our organization’s strategy?
  • What drivers and trends are shaping the future market and how can we best capitalize on these trends?

Through wargaming, your team gains new perspectives by putting themselves in the competition’s shoes. It helps to anticipate competitor actions, identify potential actions and reactions, and enables an organization to develop contingency plans. Wargaming allows people to challenge assumptions, create constructive conflict and overcome inherent biases.

Disruption Monitoring
Another competitive intelligence technique applied in the innovation process is trend or disruption monitoring. Studying quantifiable indicators and warnings in a methodical way can help predict movement towards a potential outcome.

The process of innovation often has a signature of specific steps and requirements preceding the introduction of new products. Product launches are the culmination of a project with several steps or stages. Understanding and outlining the sequential requirements for a specific disruption provides a means to better anticipate and predict if the disruption will occur and when. For example, publicly available, chronological signals of a coming product launch could include:

  • Signing of an R&D partnership agreement
  • Patent filings
  • Announcement of a new plant
  • New supplier partnerships
  • Personnel announcements
  • Hiring announcements
  • Local news articles
  • Trademark filings
  • Test marketing (beta, focus groups)

Example of New Product Development Timeline

Competitive intelligence is leveraged throughout every discipline within a business unit, from strategy in the C-suite to sales and marketing, operations, HR and IT. For R&D, competitive intelligence can have the greatest impact in anticipating value, risks and feasibility from the earliest stages of innovation.  Focusing this intelligence and prioritizing your efforts will maximize value, give you an edge in the market, and help your organization to innovate for success!

Beau Oliver is Director of Business Development at Cipher. He specializes in competitive intelligence, strategic planning, change management, risk mitigation, and knowledge management and brings extensive experience in commercial and government sectors across the globe. Since completing his Naval service, he has advised some of the world’s most respected companies in healthcare, transportation, consumer goods, hospitality, aerospace, information technology, and financial services. He holds a B.S. from the US Naval Academy and a M.B.A. from Georgetown University.