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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.

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