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The importance of the Critical Surveillance Factors in a Competitive Intelligence System

The Critical Surveillance Factors -also called Key Surveillance Factors, hereinafter CSF- are each expression that represent a need for knowledge/intelligence within an organisation. They provide an answer to a question raised in the organisation on an external issue. The CSF can be related to each activity of the value chain of each department of an organisation. The results of monitoring these factors will influence in one way or another the competitiveness of the organisation.

The CSF form part of Competitive Intelligence models. They are one of the fundamental parts of these models, in that they set the purpose of the whole model and determine the profile of the person who monitors the factors as well as the computer tools and the required information sources (free or paid). The CSF provide a proposition and a focus that link the management of intelligence needs with the resources and activities within the company, able to capture and produce the necessary intelligence.


In our representation of the framework in which a Competitive Intelligence model is integrated, the CSF represent the "What?"; they are external to the firm but affect its evolution; they vary in time and to manage them properly it essential to prioritise, thus giving more importance to some than to others. This prioritisation should be performed according to the impact they generate. Warning! Be careful, CSF are one thing and information categories another. The CSF must be a combination between what we want to monitor and what we can monitor. They must be specific, concise and understandably written.

The CSF can be classified by areas or by the activities of the value chain of each department of an organisation. We like the approach by areas. An example of a good number of areas of CSF is shown in the following figure:


How can we elucidate them?

The word "elucidate", although quite uncommon, fits perfectly in a CSF process: on the one hand, it denotes research or investigation and, on the other hand, definition. It is not easy to sit in front of a manager of an organisation and ask “What information needs do you have?" To avoid a situation like this, proceed as follows:

1.   Start by duly reading the Strategic Plan in force and the Management Plan. Analyse the challenges and goals.
2.   View the areas, departments and the activities of the organisation with the biggest information needs and greatest impact.
3.    Select the persons and create teams to perform 2 group sessions.

  • Phase 1 - Diverge: Workshops for teams organised around fields/areas/activities previously identified by the CI project manager. The aim is to generate as many CSF as possible during this first phase. Brainwriting might be a helpful method for the group.
  • Phase 2 - Converge: The aim in this second phase is to group the previously singled out CSF and to assess their impact on the organisation.

    Calling, preparing and pepping up meetings as well as preparing a presentation of the project are essential actions to streamline a meeting. It is also very important to have a number of questions for each of the identified areas that will help to elucidate the CSF, such as for example:

  • Competitors: Do you keep an eye on the products of your competitors? What sectors and markets do your competitors sell? Who are your customers?
  • Markets: Do you elicit the general main trends and the market share of your products and/or services? Do you monitor new policies, legislation (Official State Bulletin), initiatives and changes to national legislation? Do you monitor regional, national, European and international funding programs?
  • Technology: Do you monitor new developments or changes in technical standards and regulations? Do you collect information on the status of patents of companies and/or organisations? Do you check infringements of your patents? Do you look for potential technological partners?

4.    Assess the impact of the identified CSF (MICMAC, structural analysis): The structural analysis is a tool for structuring a group reflection. This offers the possibility to describe a system with the help of a template that connects all of its constituent elements, in this case the identified CSF. On the basis of this description, this method aims to find out the most influential and dependent CSF and, consequently, those that have the greatest impact for the organisation.
5.    Write up the CSF in a concrete and specific manner and communicate the conclusions that have been drawn.

Elucidating CSF is a delicate process. It grows more difficult, the more complex and widespread the organisation for which we work is. We advise you to focus much of the effort of the project in carrying out this task properly. A few final tips:

  • The more CSF does not necessarily mean the better (in this case, more is not better).
  • Monitoring all of them at the same time is often impossible (it is important to prioritise).

The latter is constrained by the amount of available resources, our most tangible asset within the organisation. The quality of the CSF determines to a large extent the results/products of our CI model. Do not forget that the CSF must be reviewed every year!

If you are going to address the CI area of your organisation or if you have already started and you need help, contact us and we will be happy to support you. You can also try for free a professional software like INTELSUITE by requesting a demo.