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Jan 3 / heathgross

The Four Disciplines of Competitive Intelligence

Four Disciplines of Competitive Intelligence

illustration by Cat Scott

When I first got involved in the competitive intelligence (CI) industry, I assumed that competitive intelligence was synonymous with primary research.

It was not until I attended my first SCIP conference that I learned that there was more to competitive intelligence that just primary research; there were in fact a number of disciplines that fell within CI that I knew very little about. Of course, that was a long time ago. Since then I have developed an understanding and appreciation for all of the disciplines that make up the competitive intelligence industry. What’s more, I believe that all four disciplines, working together in concert, are required for an effective competitive intelligence program.

Let’s take a brief look at the four disciplines.

  1. Secondary Research CI is a discipline that uses a number of methodologies to sift through various published sources in order gather information (data) about a competitor or industry. These sources include online search engines, company financial reports, public records, periodicals, job boards, social media sites, syndicated reports, etc. Secondary Research is valuable in that it enables a company to gather large volumes of data very quickly. When used properly it can also provide a tool for monitoring an industry or competitor’s activity on an ongoing basis (though it is limited to monitoring activity that has been made public).
  2. Technology CI generally refers to software developed by third party vendors, or in-house solutions, that are designed to help store, process, and analyze competitive intelligence information. Some of these systems are designed specifically for CI, while others are designed for broader applications but can be used to support the competitive intelligence process (SharePoint is a good example of this). While these systems can be very beneficial in supporting the competitive intelligence process, the software itself does not conduct research, it merely helps store, process and analyze information.
  3. Competitive Intelligence Consulting is more of a general term that I use to describe all of the soft services that help a client utilize competitive intelligence. Consulting services could include war games, scenario planning, product launch strategies, etc. Essentially, CI consulting is about taking the intelligence that has been gathered and figuring out how it impacts the company’s business decision or objectives. It also includes operational elements of competitive intelligence such as CI Program Audits, Counter-CI Evaluation, and Training and Best Practices Assessments. Like CI Technology, CI Consulting does not gather information, though it can be used to transform raw data into intelligence. Good CI Consulting can help paint a picture of what a competitor is likely to do based on analytical projections.
  4. That leaves us with Primary Research Competitive Intelligence. Primary Research is the process of gathering information directly from individuals who have access to the information one needs. Unlike secondary research, primary research does not focus on published information. Primary research sources could include competitor employees, competitor vendors and suppliers, competitor customers, etc. While primary research can address questions about past and current activity, the primary goal is to learn about what the competitor is going to do: ‘what are the intentions and plans of the company?’

The four competitive intelligence disciplines together can provide a company with an accurate and detailed view of the competitive landscape, enabling one to better understand the past, current, and future activities of competitors. Primary research should be the cornerstone of any competitive intelligence program. Without primary research, you may know what your competitors have done, but you have no real way of knowing what they will do next.

For more on this, read Are You Driving Your Business Blindfolded?, and check back for Primary Research: Seeing the Future.

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