Competitive Intelligence Analysis

Competitive Intelligence Analysis provides insight about competitors. This can guide decision-making.

Commercial firms or defence forces use it. Non-profit organizations (NPO) may also need such intelligence. Charities and government agencies, and other NPOs compete for budget funds, donations, and grants.

Two broad types of
competitive intelligence activities

Tactical intelligence activity focuses on the short-term. It looks at how to edge out competitors. This might include increasing sales by short-term pricing moves.

Strategic intelligence analysis (CIA) focuses on long-term big picture matters. These include risks and opportunities likely to affect the organization as a whole.

Competitive intelligence or espionage?

Strategic intelligence differs from ‘espionage’. It does not use unlawful ways to get information.

Competitive Intelligence is in the role of the beholder

The meaning of this intelligence depends on your point of view. This depends on your role in an organization. For example, a manager in a construction company may want tactical information. This could be to help price a tender for a government contract. The CEO of a national company would have different needs. They may want intelligence to defend against ‘invasion’ by a foreign competitor.

For top managers, intelligence is helpful at certain stages of the planning process -

  • SWOT analysis
  • Strategic option generation and selection
  • Monitoring strategy execution

In SWOT analysis, the focus is on the external context of the organization.

Searching for intelligence information

First, gather data. Then analyze it to change it into ‘intelligence’. Use this in decision-making.

You may do a quick web search for data on competitors. You may find useful information about your rivals online. The availability of so much information can make the intelligence task easier. Much will be irrelevant.

Do not limit your search just to the internet. Often the relevant and useful information is not accessible online.

You should include information from various ‘offline’ sources in your intelligence work. Of course, much is available in online and offline forms.
Information sources of possible use in competitive analysis include -

  • Organizational, industry, and regulator websites
  • General print news and industry specific journal articles
  • Press releases, annual reports, presentations to members and shareholders blogs
  • Employment advertizing
  • Patent, building and other permit applications
  • Government statistics and records of parliamentary inquiries
  • Product and service catalogs, price lists, product launch schedules, and other marketing materials

Some valuable intelligence will not be in these sources.

Other covert sourcing of information could include -

  • Interview customers, industry experts, and even former employees of competitors! Sometimes firms hire former employees from competing organizations for the knowledge of the competitor they bring.
  • You can also find useful stuff by networking at trade shows, conferences, and shareholder meetings.
  • Buy competitor’s products and analyze them!

Having found out all this stuff about competitors, you evaluate it.

Assessing competitive intelligence

For planning, I suggest you arrange information in a SWOT table.
Check out your competitors. Narrow the list to those most likely to affect your own organization. Select the top three to five for study.

It might be easier with a simplified example.

First, assemble the information on each shortlisted competitor into an individual competitor profile table. See the illustration to the right.

This could cover what you find out about the purpose of the organization. Also, look at employee relations, care of the environment, and so on.

List data on past performance, perhaps from annual reports.

Also, summarize anything learned about ambitions for the future.

Then include the SWOT information. You identify opportunities and threats for your own enterprise. You may have missed these in your own first draft of the SWOT.

Describe any information you have about the style of the competitor’s strategy. Are they moving to take over smaller competitors? Will they change channels through which they work? Is there any evidence of them exploiting new technology? Are they forming strategic partnerships to exploit new markets?

Putting the intelligence together

When these profiles are done put them into an overall view of the industry.

Look at the issues arising. Here is an example. The summary may show that a competitor may make a preemptive move in the market. Or, they seem to have missed an opportunity you are capable of exploiting. These things can flag possible actions on the part of your enterprise.

There is a professional body for these intelligence analysts. It started in 1986. It is the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). It is a global non-profit membership organization. SCIP provides professional networking, training, and educational opportunities. SCIP advocates for the skilled use of intelligence to enhance decision-making.

Return from Competitive Intelligence to SWOT Analysis.

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