Competitive intelligence as input for strategic reflection
- Competitive Intelligence
Last year, an entry in our blog gave our point of view on how to integrate Competitive Intelligence in an innovation process in an organisation. We often say that we prefer Competitive Intelligence to be an activity focused on added value in innovation processes and, to this end, the CI model deployed in an organisation must be engaged with the established innovation model of the company. Innovation must be something that starts first thing in the morning, from the moment somebody unlocks the door until the last person that leaves the building. We like this because in this way Competitive Intelligence becomes a process that keeps you alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (our algorithms do not sleep and do not celebrate Christmas!). Thanks to this, local businesses are able to improve their current products and technologies or innovate and develop new concepts that enables them to make a leap in competitiveness.
Although we don´t like that the sole focus of CI is on the strategic area, our experiences after all these years working on designing and deploying Competitive Intelligence units shows that many organisations lack a proper strategic planning to steer the company in the following years. The mathematician and writer Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) already said it: "If you don´t know where you´re going, any road will take you there". This phrase is very representative and, at an enterprise level, it could be translated as the energy invested in guiding the company toward the future; work to identify the key elements that position us in the future; what we need to do and what decisions we have to make so that our organisation is how we want it to be in the future. We must have a clear vision of the future. Strategic planning is an activity that paves the way of an organisation toward the future. In this context, Competitive Intelligence plays an irreplaceable role. CI must help to create this vision of the future and to visualise or pinpoint where we want to lead our organisation to.
Guiding the Competitive Intelligence process to create this vision is not an easy task. We tend to be very precise when we define Critical Surveillance Factors in an organisation, and we start by systematising the collection of data that affect these critical factors, but usually they are factors that affect what "we know that we don´t know", and it is important to let the Competitive Intelligence processes also focus on making clear those aspects that "we don’t know that we don´t know". It is important that our CI model collects critical surveillance factors present in all quadrants of this radar established by Clive Kerr in the year 2006:
- Knowing what we know (Mine): this is the starting point of any strategic reflection process.
- Not knowing what we know (Trawl): this is the role normally performed by the consultants we hire to perform this strategic reflection process; they try to collect all information available in the company and in the minds of the managers or key persons in the organisation. Poorly planned or directed reflection processes give rise to not knowing what we already know and this may lead to failed strategic planning.
- Knowing what we don’t know (Target): here is what most critical surveillance factors are focussed on. Where do our competitors sell? What technologies are being developed? Are new products being developed? Is the business volume in the sectors where we operate up or down? What is our market share? And a long etcetera. It is relatively easy to know what we do not know and we focus our efforts for a large part on this to systematise our CI project. However, even if the approach is easy, many organisations do not perform it correctly. The result is a poor knowledge of the environment that comes to light during the strategic planning process. Many strategic consultants (we have come across a few) are delighted when they learn that the organisation has previously organised and systematised collecting, filtering and analysing of relevant information in its environment.
- Not knowing what we don´t know: It seems complicated, right? Indeed it is. We won’t deny it. The biggest hurdle here is the time required which may seem quite an ordeal, it may take up a lot of your time without even knowing where you are going or whether the information is actually worth collecting. We recommend that the energy invested here is linked with certain objectives of the company toward diversification of business models or searches for new opportunities. You can read our blog that includes an article that we wrote for the Visio congress in 2014 ("Competitive Intelligence as a key activity in the diversification of new business models").
- Organising a Competitive Intelligence process with critical factors in all these quadrants undoubtedly enriches our planning and strategic reflection processes.
We are not going to tell you what steps to take and how you must approach an efficient and satisfactory strategic reflection process (there is a lot of documentation available in this regard) but we will tell what the best way to start is: making a strategic plan on how a strategic plan should be made. It may seem like a word game but it is very important to clarify the rules of the game so as not to have unexpected surprises at the end of the process.