What is a proper competitive intelligence tool? (I)

While BI tools and solutions became a commodity – and therefore offer roughly the same functionality – CI tools are not at that stage (yet). So for that reason it is important to have a good understanding of the functionality the tools can offer to be able to determine whether or not a CI tool will suit your needs and will support your CI processes best. In this series Anne and yours truly will address some of the functionality we believe is important and that such tools should offer to be called a CI tool (in our humble opinion).

Before we move on, I think it is useful to look back at one of my previous posts (The Synergy Between Competitive Intelligence and Social Media) for a little while. In that post, I clearly state what I believe is a CI tool and try to distinct these tools from tools that may be used for CI, Social Media in this example:

So if they [Social Media] do support CI in a way, why are they not CI tools? Because they do not support the core competitive intelligence processes, which is what [CI] tools should do. CI is not (only) about gathering information on your competitive environment. That’s the easy part. It’s about creating intelligence through analysis. And after that, it’s pretty worthless if you do not act upon it. So that is what CI tools should help accomplish. They should help you gather, analyze, present and distribute intelligence regarding your competitive environment (the well known intelligence cycle) in order to persuade the decision makers in your company to take action based upon it.

Based on this, I believe CI tools are the heart of any ICT infrastructure supporting CI processes. These are the tools the CI analysts use for their daily activities. In addition to that, there might be a need for specific functionality in order to fulfill specific tasks any company may wish to perform. For example, there may be a need for a collaborative platform (such as a portal or intranet solution) in order to integrate CI in the organization. But that doesn’t make a portal a CI solution (and trust me, some portal providers want you to believe that).

So now that we have a proper understanding of the scope of CI tools, it’s time to reveal the three areas of functionality, or frameworks, that we will cover in this series:

  • Information gathering and spreading framework
  • Profiling framework
  • Analysis framework

Information gathering and spreading framework

The information gathering and spreading framework allows information to flow through the system. This framework supports both the first and the last phase of the intelligence cycle (being the information collection and distribution phases).

Even though there are countless ways in which tools can support these process steps, below picture attempts to give a generic overview of the way information flows through your system:

  • First, the CI analyst as well as the audience (the internal customers of your CI system) gather information either through a manual search or automated queries that alert the user that the system brought up information that matches his criteria.
  • Second, by manually flagged pieces of information as important (or favorites) or by showing frequently queried topics, the system can suggest potentially important information to both CI analysts and the audience.
  • Last, CI analysts can use the system to share a selection of information (newsletter or similar) or generated content (reports) to the audience.

In practice we see a lot of ways this functionality is applied in a company. CI analysts use newsletters as a way to communicate with the audience, being (in the case of a newsletter) either a selected group of fellow CI practitioners, their internal customers or a bigger part of the organization. In this case, the CI analyst is the editor of the newsletter, selecting (or verifying an automated selection of) news (and/or documents) he decides brings value to the organization. In selecting, he specifically chooses to inform his audience about certain topics and he can add comments to further enhance his message.

In addition to a newsletter, the CI analyst may send out reports to the audience. These reports can be simply a collection of information, but most likely it will be the result of analysis. He can send out competitor profiles updated with the latest news, but the true added value is in the conclusions he draws upon those events. Since this information is likely to be (somewhat) confidential, such reports and profiles tend to have a smaller audience.

Apart from these direct ways to communicate with the audience, CI tools also offer ways to share favorite (search) topics and sometimes alerts as well. Although not as effective as a report or a newsletter (since no editing was done and no intelligence was added, the relevance will be lower), this can be an interesting and easy way to share information.

Summarizing the above, we can conclude that the framework for gathering and spreading information is indeed an important part of a CI tool. The added value is brought by the fact the CI analyst can actively communicate with his audience by sharing information and spreading intelligence. There are of course countless tools that aid in gathering and sharing information, so at this point we have not made the distinction between CI tools and those other tools. This distinction will become clear in the next post where Anne will discuss the profiling and analysis frameworks.

As a final note, I would like to point out one mayor caveat. Especially in the third application of the framework – sharing alerts and search topics –  one is contributing to information overload, which is much more relevant nowadays than information shortage. Loading your audience with favorites and alerts, each generating more and more information, will significantly decrease the chance your audience actually have enough hours in a day to consume the information, let alone digest.

The Synergy Between Competitive Intelligence and Social Media by Jeroen van Luik

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Comments: 3 Comments

3 Responses to “What is a proper competitive intelligence tool? (I)”

  1. Tools may leverage / help to assist the “body of knowledge” of (at least part of it):

    1) CI practitioner
    2) CI department/organization
    3) decision maker.

    The first one is related to the CI cycle as you describe in this post. I suggest having a look to the work that Dr. John Prescott did in this area (http://www.centraldesktop.com/prescott/competitiveintelligencebodyofknowledge/
    The second one relates to the way that a CI function is developed in the firm. In this case I suggest have a look to the “World-class CI function”™ model that Prescott and I have developed since 2005 (http://www.world-class-ci.com).
    The last one relates to the way that decision makers embed CI into decision making process.

    In my opinion there are a grate variety of tools (qualitative/conceptual and quantitative) available in the market commercial and free). Practitioners need to understand which part of CI needs urgent or greatest support.

    Best Regards,
    Alessandro Comai

  2. [...] the previous two posts, ‘What is a proper Competitive Intelligence tool?’ part I and part II, we discussed basic functionality of a CI tool. From this post on, we’ll be [...]

  3. Busisiwe says:

    Hi! I would like to find out which CI tools are used in the implementation of CI strategy