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News & Insights

News & Insights

Data-Driven Competitive Intelligence

Frei 4
A glimpse of old-school data collection and dissemination as seen on a tour through the Sprudelhof, Bad Nauheim’s turn of the century bathing complex, one of the International Competitive Intelligence Conference 2012’s social events.

Competitive intelligence (CI) is a craft used primarily by large, multinational corporations—think Nestle, IBM, and Novartis—to steer strategy. Keeping an eye on technology developments, competitor sales data, or the movements of key industry players are all common CI practices and, while many may confuse CI with corporate espionage, most of the information analyzed is freely available via open sources.

Last week dozens of these in-house competitive intelligence practitioners gathered in Bad Nauheim, Germany to attend a conference held by the Institute for Competitive Intelligence. I was there to understand how to improve IEI’s CI research practices, and here is my brief assessment of the current state of this important market for information services.

The amount of data gathered and analyzed by companies depends on their size and industry, but multinational consumer goods companies are among the largest consumers of CI services. These firms constantly monitor and analyze multiple streams of real-time data including social media conversations, ecommerce data, and competitor web site activity by using high-end data extraction tools and crowdsourcing (two of IEI’s practice areas). In other cases, for example to gain detailed information on emerging new technologies, only in-depth primary research with industry experts and think-tanks will do. In either case, the design of the data-gathering process remains the key to the accuracy and timeliness of the final analysis. Key questions include: Where is key information available? How can we get it quickly and cost-effectively? How do we feed it into our analysis routines?

Elvis Presley Platz
Elvis Presley Platz, Bad Nauheim, Germany, just across the street from the venue for the International Competitive Intelligence Conference 2012.

The data is out there, and there’s more of it every day, so the CI practitioner’s challenge has become how to gather, standardize, sift, and analyze all of it fast enough to give their employers a competitive advantage. In many ways the practice of CI is similar to the editorial side of the publishing industry, which exists to keep their customers on top of their industry or profession’s latest trends. In fact, there are several large erstwhile publishing firms like IHS that have very successful high-end industry intelligence services and offer custom consulting services, too. When the project is just too sensitive to trust with outside vendors, it can only be handled in-house. That doesn’t mean, however, that all the raw data gathering and structuring can’t be outsourced or crowdsourced, and we expect to see a lot more of this in the near future.

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