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Posts Tagged ‘AWARE’

Communication

September 17, 2007 Leave a comment
Most CI professionals are familiar with the standard competitive intelligence cycle (although you will often see variations). Typically the steps are given as:
  1. planning & direction i.e. the boss – also known as the end-user :-) tells you what is needed and you or they work out how to get it;
  2. collection – you follow your plan;
  3. processing & analysis – you integrate the gathered information with other information to convert the information into something usable i.e. intelligence;
  4. dissemination – you pass back the intelligence to the end-user and hope that they act on it.
Those who know me will know that I disagree with this cycle. There are a number of things wrong with the model – for example:
  • the model lacks feedback steps;
  • it doesn’t integrate with other business processes adequately, such as the strategic/business planning cycles;
  • it doesn’t allow for serendipitous intelligence gathering crucial for effective early warning systems.
There are others, and when I teach CI I always highlight the problems, and also present alternatives. (For example the 4Cs model described in AWARE’s brief guide to competitive intelligence)

My focus in this item however is the use of the word dissemination. The Encarta® World English Dictionary defines disseminate as “to distribute or spread something, especially information…“. Most other dictionaries give similar definitions. The problem with this word is that it implies that information flows one way – from the collector to the end-user. There is no mention of information – feedback – flowing the other way or laterally throughout the organisation. Effective competitive intelligence needs an information sharing culture where information flows between those who have the intelligence and those who need it – each informing the other. The English word to describe this process is not dissemination, but communication.

The Encarta dictionary has a number of definitions for communication and the verb communicate. Communication is defined as “the exchange of information between individuals, for example, by means of speaking, writing, or using a common system of signs or behavior” while the second definition for communicate is “to transmit or reveal a feeling or thought by speech, writing, or gesture so that it is clearly understood“.

Isn’t this what we aim to do in competitive intelligence: not to disseminate intelligence without any feedback or even knowing if the intelligence is usable, useful or understood but to communicate it so that both parties clearly understand its impact and importance?

The problem is how to communicate intelligence so that it is understood, and used. That, however, will have to be a topic for a future blog entry.

Thinking Hats

August 7, 2007 1 comment
This entry has been prompted by a comment (critique) on Jon Lowder’s CI blog that I don’t publish very often. I could try and make excuses (work, laze, inability – delete whichever is not applicable). However I won’t – as I think the complaint is totally justified. In fact I tend to have spurts – and publish when I get ideas. I’d prefer to blog something that fulfilled the aims I have for this blog then just use it for a stream of consciousness – much of which would be just a way of me asserting my ego. So thank you Jon for the prompt to think!

First – a couple of comments on Jon’s blog – if you’ve not ever read it. He has some great tips which I firmly second. For example, recent blogs mention the uses of LinkedIn in CI. I’ve been a LinkedIn user for some time – and have found it invaluable as a source for potential contacts. I’ve also signed up with other networking groups although my network is smaller on these – Xing, Ecademy, etc. Also – don’t ignore Facebook and MySpace. A lot of companies have signed up for pages on these networking sites, and you never know who or what you might find that could help with a project.

Jon mentions a new LinkedIn feature – the ability to ask questions, and get answers from other users as a strength of the service. Potentially it could be – although I felt the answers given were poor. I think a better service for answering questions is the FreePint bar which has a circulation list of approaching 100,000 expert searchers who answer questions on a massive range of topics – many of which are relevant for competitive intelligence professionals. (As an example, recent posts have looked at international tax comparisons, media monitoring, Swiss, Austrian & German company shareholders and Russian export regulations).

In the example Jon highlighted, half the answers suggested HitWise. This is a great service, but I’m not sure that it is the right solution for the questioner, from the bank JP Morgan-Chase, who was looking for competitive intelligence vendors for paid search – asking Is CI effective in Search? None of the answers given took into account the questioner’s origins in financial services – or asked what he meant by his question about whether CI was effective in search.

What Hitwise offers is a service giving customers knowledge on how Internet users interact with web-sites – your own and your competitors. You can use it to compare how your site is performing against competitor sites – and if this is what was wanted, then Hitwise would be a good solution. However Hitwise’s strength is not really for B2B web-sites, as these will generally receive much less traffic than the consumer web-sites for which the Hitwise service is best aimed. If what was wanted were vendors who were experts at secondary Internet search then Hitwise would not be the correct solution – members of the Association of Independent Information professionals (www.aiip.org) would have been a better bet – as most are experts at searching the Internet and other databases, and many, including us at AWARE, specialise in competitive intelligence.

In fact, another interpretation of this question is completely different and takes into account both the nature of the questioner and medium where the question was posed. LinkedIn attracts a lot of recruiters and recruitment agencies, and is used by these for looking for candidates. Search is sometimes used in this context so the question could have related to this i.e. Is CI effective in Recruitment Searching? If this was what the questioner really wanted then none of the 8 responses was satisfactory.

This highlights a lesson for all competitive intelligence professionals – you need to know, for each research request:

  • who is actually asking the question (i.e. you are asked a question by your boss, but this is because his or her boss has asked them a question – are the two questions the same or has something been lost in the transmission?),
  • why are they asking it,
  • what are they really looking to achieve with the answer.
Only then can you really answer the question. It’s a question of putting on your thinking hat to get behind the, often, easy looking question.

In fact, if you really want to study a problem it’s not one thinking hat that should be used but six! This idea comes from the work of Edward de Bono – and should be a key element of all competitive intelligence analytical approaches. Essentially every problem for which a decision is required should be looked at in six ways:

  1. Neutral: focusing on the data available, knowledge gaps, past trends and extrapolations from historical data. Unfortunately this is where a lot of CI people stop in their analyses – and just present the neutral view. This is rarely the full answer that the decision maker needs.
  2. Self-opinionated / emotionally: how will your customer react to the response you are giving him or her? Does your work answer the question they’ve posed – not the surface question, but the underlying driver that led to the question? You need to use intuition and your emotional instincts to look at the problem with this approach. What are the emotions involved? How will people respond to your research when they’ve not been through the process or followed the reasoning you took to reach the answer?
  3. Judgmentally: what are the bad points or weaknesses in your work or the decision suggested? What could go wrong? Be cautious and risk-adverse. This approach lets you prepare for the worst and makes you think of alternative options and create contingency plans if things don’t work as expected.
  4. Positively: now look at the good points and the benefits that will result from any decision. Even if everything looks like a disaster, trying to see the positive can help find a way out of the mess. It can also help show the value in the decision – in a way that may not be immediately obvious.
  5. Creatively: brainstorm a bit. Try and think beyond the problem for alternative solutions or approaches. Don’t criticise any ideas – just go with the flow. This approach allows you to come up with further suggestions and ideas that could add increased value to what you are suggesting. More importantly they show that you’ve really considered all aspects of the problem.
  6. Take an overview of the other 5 approaches: this final approach looks at all the other five and evaluates the responses, synthesizing the responses into a single coherent, balanced position. If there are too few alternatives then it may be time to go back to the creative approach. If everything looks perfect, then be really judgmental and see if you can come up with anything wrong at all – just in case there is some gremlin that was missed. If everything looks bad, go back to the positive approach and look to see if there is anything salvageable.
Answering problems and coming to decisions using de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats technique will result in better solutions and safer, more resilient and robust decisions – avoiding potential disasters, while being able to feel more confident about the actions you commit to.

It’s April – so it must be Spring, SCIP and AIIP

April 20, 2007 Leave a comment

April is a peak time for information professionals. There are two major industry events – and AWARE managing partner – Arthur Weiss – can be seen at both.

The first is the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) annual conference – taking place this year in sunny Minneapolis. The second is the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professional’s conference – a week later, in New York.

Both are major events on the calendar – and major networking opportunities. Networking is a crucial skill for info-pros – and it pays off. A few years ago I helped out a colleague and she has now put me in touch with WS Radio who just interviewed me on my role as a CI professional. You can listen to the broadcast now: Radio Interview with WSRadio.

What better proof of the power of networking than being heard on a network :-) I hope that you enjoy listening to the show as much as I enjoyed participating in it.

A new dawn – we hope you like it!

February 1, 2007 Leave a comment
At last – the update on the AWARE site has been completed. After a marathon late night session all pages, both new and replacement, have been uploaded.

We’ve included more FAQs, more humour, more white papers, copies of presentations given at conferences and many resources to help competitive & marketing intelligence professionals stay at the top of their field.

There are a few bits we are still working on, but over the next few weeks these should be finished too. So bear with us. Our Business Sites for CI Professionals pages still require work – so that we can create the definitive resource of top sites to aid secondary research. We also plan to change a lot of the images and pictures – with new sharper, snazzier versions. And that’s just for starters. Other changes will happen over time – with new content and support for competitive intelligence professionals worldwide.

This site update involved almost a complete rewrite of the way the site was built – and EVERY page had to be modified. Most of the changes are behind-the-scenes and apart from the new menu bar, you may not even notice differences on some pages. Believe us though – there were. The site now allows text size to be increased or reduced – complying with disability legislation and allowing visually impaired readers to read the site with ease. We’ve also labeled most (not yet all) images so that visitors using Braille readers can identify the graphic elements.

As with any undertaking this size, there may be mistakes, typos, errors, or pages that just don’t work. There may also be some pages that look inconsistent, or where fonts change half-way through or between pages. Some pages may look odd on your browser and although we’ve tried to check for this, we may have missed something. (The look of a page can vary depending on the computer used, the screen resolution and the browser. Our favourite browser is Firefox, and all pages looked OK using Firefox. We also tested the site on an older version of Internet Explorer – but may have missed some things).

So, if you do spot errors, or things you don’t like, please let us know.

Back to the Future – January 2007

January 14, 2007 Leave a comment

This may look like the first entry in AWARE’s blog but it’s not. We’ve been blogging for a while, albeit not frequently. Unfortunately our previous host fell by the wayside, as often seems to happen with web-sites and cyberspace. So this is more of a recap post, as I don’t want to lose the great stuff already posted.

So this is what now follows: the preceding posts…. awwww. “Couldn’t you start something new” I hear. Well, that will come, but not today.

Instead, I’m posting the previous entries as new entries. They may look new – but in reality they are just repeats from our previous site (ResearchZilla – at ResearchZilla.com)

Online Again!

December 2, 2005 Leave a comment

Yesterday was the first day of the International Online Information Conference and Exhibition – the premier (well I think so anyway) trade show for those interested in anything to do with online information.

Whether you are interested in competitive intelligence, or scientific information or history or knowledge management – or even just chilling out with some really great people, you’d find something to keep you interested, amused or just full up with chocolate. (Yes – lots of stands were giving out free chocolates – which means that this is one show that you should skip if you subscribe to Chocoholics Anonymous).

My day started with the annual AIIP breakfast – sponsored by the Thomson Organisation (Yes – even corporates can be altruistic sometimes!) – and speaking to old (and new) friends within the AIIP community. (You don’t know what AIIP is – and you call yourself an information professional? Go this minute to their web-site and sign up – or if you are not independent, find out how you can improve your research efforts by using some of the world’s best searchers (www.aiip.org).

And then to the day’s key-note speaker: David Weinberger (for more on David – visit his site at www.evident.com or his blog at www.johotheblog.com). Unfortunately I spent too much time chatting at the breakfast and so missed the start of David’s talk. However what I heard was enough to make me realise how much further things will go in the information-using industries (and isn’t that all industries?). He highlighted how blogs and wikis are changing the way people perceive information. He contrasted corporate web-sites with the newer collaborative models such as wikis and blogs. He suggested that corporate sites tend to be narcissistic in that they are self-referencing with links that only refer to other parts of their web-site, or sometimes to paid advertisements. Compare this to blogs which invite the reader to explore outside and visit other sites. Rather than focus on sticky eyeballs and making sites sticky (whatever that means – I’ve yet to see anybody attach their eyes to a sticky screen showing some cool web-site!) they have enough confidence in their content to know that readers will return for more – after they’ve visited the links of interest.

The impact of such collaborative approaches is sure to grow – just consider the number of entries on Wikipedia compared to something more traditional – the Encyclopedia Britannica for example. Wikipedia has more entries – many of which are highly eclectic showing the range of information that people view interesting or important. The Britannica is, more staid, serious, and tied to older ways of sharing knowledge. As a result it can’t keep up with the dynamism of Wikipedia. (Could you imagine an entry such as the Wikipedia one for Deep Fried Mars Bars in the Britannica. This was one example of several given by Weinberger).

Apparently Weinberger has given a similar talk before – which was turned into a Podcast. So if you missed the talk at online, it is available for downloading at the Everything is Miscellaneous link on Paidcontent.org. (Thanks to Marydee Odjala for this – Marydee, apart from producing a great blog at InfotodayBlog, is the editor of Online Magazine).

And then to my session. I spoke for 30 minutes on using Online tools for finding competitive intelligence that can help identify opportunities and threats. Obviously you can’t do more than an overview of such a vast topic in 30 minutes – but I tried, by giving a brief overview on competitor, customer and similar monitoring using selected online tools before moving on to mention RSS feeds as a way of keeping up to date and then selected futurist sites for anticipating the future (e.g. the Global Business Network (led by Peter Schwartz, author of the excellent The Art of the Long View) or Shaping Tomorrow as two examples. (The Art of the Long View is my favourite scenario planning/futures studies books – I list several more on my web pages at www.marketing-intelligence.co.uk/resources/books.htm. OK – I know that is a plug for my site, but this is my blog, so tough – live with it! )

In the afternoon, I found time for two sessions on searching, featuring luminaries from both the UK and across the pond in the US including Chris Sherman (of Search Engine Watch; Karen Blakeman of RBA Information services – one of the top UK based information search services; Amelia Kassel of MarketingBase who had joined me a short-while earlier as a co-leader for a round-table session on competitive intelligence where we were joined by an international audience with people from the UK, US, Europe, Egypt…; Mary-Ellen Bates of Bates Information Services; the UK’s own Phil Bradley and the aforementioned Marydee Odjala. Could you ask for more?

If all that wasn’t enough for one day – I finished off joining Will Hann of Freepint (the information professional community site – if you don’t know Freepint then this is another one to visit and bookmark now) and friends for after show drinks and snacks. A great day – to start a great show. Today – Wednesday – will finish with the International Online Awards dinner, but before then will be some more great sessions.

And the show goes on (until Thursday – 1st December 2005, that is!)

Competitive Strategies – the dog fight!

July 25, 2005 Leave a comment

Sometimes selecting the right strategy is not straightforward. You have to think laterally.

People talk about competitive strategy – and how important it is for the business to have an effective competitive strategy. In fact, this is a redundant use of words. If a strategy is not effective, then it is not competitive, and vice versa (i.e. if it is competitive, then it will be effective). So why not just say that businesses need effective strategies.

The following story comes to mind in the context of designing an effective strategy that will beat the competition. (It is also timely, considering the recent London atrocity – still in the news of course). There are five lessons from the story:

  1. You need to know what you are up against (so do a full SWOT analysis)
  2. You need to ensure that you have all the facts
  3. You need to be wary of assumptions – just because you think you know what something is, does not always mean that that is what it is!
  4. Never underestimate your opponent – they could have a more effective strategy than you have
  5. Sometimes, to win requires lateral thought. The obvious or standard approach will not win out.

It is now the year 2010. Around 2007, the US and the Al-Quaida network realised that if they continued their fight they would someday end up destroying the world. So they sat down and decided to settle the whole dispute with a dogfight. The negotiators agreed that each would take five years to develop the best fighting dog they could. The dog that won the fight would earn its owner the right to rule the world. The losing side would have to lay down its arms.

Al Quaida found the biggest, meanest Dobermans and Rottweilers in the world. They bred them together and then crossed their offspring with the meanest Siberian wolves. They selected only the biggest, strongest puppy from each litter, killed all the other puppies and fed the lone dog all of the milk. They used steroids and trainers in their quest for the perfect killing machine, until, after the five years were up, they had a dog that needed iron prison bars on his cage. Only the trainers could handle this beast.

When the day of the big fight arrived, the US showed up with a strange animal: It was a nine-foot-long Dachshund. Everyone felt sorry for the US. No one else thought this weird animal stood a chance against the growling beast in the Al Quaida camp. The bookmakers predicted Al Quaida would win in less than a minute. The cages were opened. The Dachshund waddled toward the center of the ring. The Al Quaida dog leapt from his cage and charged the giant wiener-dog. As he got to within an inch of the US dog, the Dachshund opened its jaws and swallowed the Al Quaida beast in one bite. There was nothing left but a small bit of fur from the killer dog’s tail. Al Quaida approached the US, shaking their heads in disbelief. “We do not understand. Our top scientists and breeders worked for five years with the meanest, biggest Dobermans and Rottweilers. They developed a killing machine.” “Really?” the US replied. “We had our top plastic surgeons working for five years to make a Florida alligator look like a Dachshund!”

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