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Posts Tagged ‘information’

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.

Honey Traps!

December 20, 2006 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about a topic for this entry. I was considering something along the lines of the uses and dangers of honey-traps in competitive intelligence and counter-intelligence. This was prompted by the story of Judith told in the Apocrypha, and featured in some of the world’s greatest art work. (If you see a woman holding somebody’s decapitated head then it is either Judith with the head of Holofernes, or more commonly, Salome with John the Baptist’s head. Judith’s story is remembered on the Jewish festival of Chanukah that ended just after Christmas, and led to a custom to eat cheese on this holiday. The key point is that Holofernes, a Greek general, was tempted by the beautiful Judith, who plied him with salty cheese, and then wine to quench his thirst. Holofernes had lost his head to Judith’s beauty before he fell into a drunken stupor. He then lost his head to Judith’s sword! It is essentially the old-new story of beware Greeks bearing gifts – in reverse, as instead of it being the Greeks tricking the Trojans, it was the Greeks getting tricked. For competitive intelligence professionals, it shows three things:

  • How easy it is to get information or what ever is needed when tempted by an unexpected gift. Rather than ask for information and give nothing in return, try and make it a quid-pro-quo by offering a piece of harmless (but unknown to the interviewee) information. This exchange can stimulate conversation and encourage the passing of information. As an example, many years ago, I was working on a project. I promised interviewees a copy of the report I was writing in return for their co-operation. This was a sanitised version of what I was giving to my client. In fact, it was pretty much a rehash of what my interviewees had just told me, with the useful bits wanted by my client removed. I sent this to one interviewee – who promptly called me back to thank me. He had been my main source and much of the report was based on his input. He then proceeded to give me much more information than he had before – invaluable to my client.
  • How an unexpected gift can encourage people to talk. The above example shows how it can be done. The danger is that people in your company may be giving away valuable information – so it is important to ensure that there is a policy on who can talk to outsiders, and what can be said.
  • How women can tempt men. Yes – I know that this is politically incorrect, but it is done. I know of a CI consultancy that had a reputation for employing extremely attractive, and very bright 20-year old graduates. These girls would then call up senior executives, play naive, and get the executives to talk. They would then invite them to a lunch meeting to talk further – and the executives would melt, giving away information that they should have known not to give. Unfortunately it is a failing of some middle-aged men to give away the store when flattered by a much younger woman. This is the classic honey-trap, and although it may not be ethical, it does go on.

Think why information is available

September 25, 2006 Leave a comment
When I teach people about competitive intelligence, I always emphasise the importance of understanding why information is available.

Competitor information becomes public for a number of reasons, but these can be summarised into three categories:

  • Intentional dissemination of information about the company by the company – for example, an annual report or a press release
  • Accidental dissemination of information about the company by the company – for example, a leak or rumour
  • Information that comes from a third party. This itself can take a number of forms. One is like a footprint in the sand – so competitor actions can provide clues to their plans or strategies. A typical example is when a competitor signs a contract with another company. This company may mention the contract – giving out information about the competitor. A second example is where a third party has managed to collect information on a competitor from a variety of sources including interviews and non-published sources. In this case, the third party may decide to publish their information as a market research report. Sometimes the third party may include a synthesis of information that combined gives further insights.
Of course, all three are important for competitive intelligence – although perhaps the third is the most important. One of the aims of a competitor analyst is to gather intelligence from both published and non-published (but legal and ethical) sources – and synthesise these so as to give something that conveys an advantage not available to competitors.

Sometimes though, information can come too easily. Part of the skillset of a competent competitor analyst should be an ability to evaluate why information became available. Which of the above was the reason and how reliable is the information? There is a risk that the gathered intelligence is wrong, and a validity check can help assess the chances of this. (One common approach is to grade both the intelligence and source, giving a likelihood of accuracy). Whatever method is used, however, there is always the risk that sometimes things will be wrong.

A simple approach is to consider how easy the information was to obtain. This works on the assumption that competitors will try and protect information that they would prefer not to be in the public domain. So if information is easily available it has a lower value and may be more suspect than information that took a lot of thought and work to obtain.

This is illustrated by the following story – in this case there was an ulterior motive in providing information that on the surface, looked like a real money-saver. The true reason came out as an accidental disclosure following a pointed interview type question!

A man was having problems with the quality of the print from his printer so he called a local repair shop where a friendly man informed him that the printer probably needed only to be cleaned. Because the store charged $50 for such cleanings, he told him he might be better off reading the printer’s manual and trying the job himself.

Pleasantly surprised by his candor, the man asked, “Does your boss know that you discourage business?

“Actually, it’s my boss’s idea,” the employee replied sheepishly. “We usually make more money on repairs if we let people try to fix things themselves”

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