27 Jul 10 Competitive intelligence and street lighting

streetlightEveryone would like the streets to be lit, but individually, each person would like to avoid paying for streetlights. If my neighbours on both sides put streetlights outside their homes, I don’t really need to put one outside mine. The street is adequately lit. Of course, each resident will use this logic. So, left solely to the residents, the streets will remain dark. The government needs to step in and provide the lighting that everybody really needs and wants.

What does this have to do with competitive intelligence?

The success of the competitive intelligence system in a company depends crucially on the participation of its employees, as most times, some of the best sources of CI actually reside within the company. Further, competitive intelligence is required by virtually all functions in an organisation. But like street lighting, while everyone would like to use competitive intelligence, very few people are willing to commit to contributing to it.

Why else do strategy and planning teams have so much difficulty in getting inputs and MISs from those in sales and operations?  Knowledge sharing initiatives often start with a lot of enthusiasm and then die down after a while. Organisations find themselves constantly balancing the carrot and the stick to get information and insights.

The CEO can play a very critical role in ensuring that CI gets the priority it deserves – similar to the government’s role in keeping the streets lit. Naturally, he cannot be expected to do anything hands-on; but if he is seen to be seriously committed to the CI process within the company, the employees will take it seriously too.

An obvious and direct way is for him to ask to see the intelligence on the basis of which decisions are taken within his company.  He can also send other, more subtle messages to his organisation through his communications. Talking about it informally in social gatherings, asking his senior managers incisive questions on the business environment, bringing it up in a blog on the intranet, mentioning it in a speech to the employees, etc. are some of the ways in which the CEO can usher in a CI culture within the organisation.

What are the other things CEOs do to strengthen CI processes in their company?

Varsha Chitale

Varsha led the competitive intelligence practice at ValueNotes. As part of her drive to educate India Inc. on the merits of competitive intelligence, she often conducted webinars and seminars on CI for senior executives of Indian companies.

  • Rahul
    Posted at 06:21h, 17 February Reply

    Its funny but sadly true, at times not doing anything is also an intelligent move. Our Former PM IK Gujral & Deve Gowda did just that. At that time stability in government was more important than a government actually doing something for investors support.

    Its good for a CEO to initiate CI, but at times it clashes with the Ego & sentiments of directors of board which can cost CEO his/her job in private firms. CI result implementation has a lot to do with handling people because ultimately its people who implement and not the CEO.

  • Akshay
    Posted at 06:47h, 12 August Reply

    Just to bring in some more perspective, CI and Street lighting is a great comparison, but the problem arises when the CEO need to take a call on whether to start a CI function or not. When the government puts up the street lights they do it for the greater good of the society, provide for the people, prevent theft. But a CEO of a company has his task cut out because by employing a CI function he will just be helping his company and not the industry or the sector as a whole. This is where i think the CEO’s job is tougher than that of government legislators, he needs to confront his employees, the directors, shareholders to convince them the effectiveness of a CI function in the company. This could be a reason for CI not being a priority in many companies( i want to make a distinction between CI and MI),as it takes time to show results and there is a possibility that the end receivers of the information might say ” ohh we already new that”, which might defeat the future of CI in that company. SO it becomes imperative that the CEO, gives in his time, confidence for the CI team to perform and become a important part of strategy formulation

  • Cath
    Posted at 15:21h, 27 July Reply

    In my opinion, if I want light outside my house that I can depend on, I need to put it there and maintain it. I will not rely on others to provide it for me. If I cannot do the wiring myself, I will hire a qualified professional to do it for me. The same applies to my view on CI. If my company wants to be competitive I need to know the playing field. I will not rely on information from other people, I will do the primary research myself or pay a quality researcher to do it for me. Sure, it is very valid to use the research gathered from internal sources but it needs to be triangulated and then assessed by a seasoned CI analyst.

    • Varsha
      Posted at 09:03h, 28 July Reply

      You have a point.
      If you don’t get the intelligence you need through internal flows, it makes sense to go out and use external professional researchers.
      Even if the internal intelligence flows are smooth, you may want to get the intelligence validated by an independent researcher – as slants and biases could creep into the internal intelligence due to vested interests of the internal sources.

      • Venkata
        Posted at 06:41h, 01 February Reply

        Interesting article indeed!

        CI needs Org support and commitment from organization as a whole, to make it effective.

        As an approach, it has to be multipronged pronged – the information flow has to be (at the minimum) three dimensional – (i) Intelligence gathered from the field (Internal Sources), (ii) Focussed Secondary / Primary Research to understand the market (I would include External Syndicated Data Sources here). (iii) The third component being the most important link – flow information from the CI Group to the organization.

        (i) and (iii) will have to thrive to make the CI process and the CI group effective. This is where the Leadership Patronage becomes important. Leadership Patronage also will (can?) help CI play a more strategic role in shaping the organization.

        If left to individual entities / siloes, the information will still be collected, analysed, and interpreted for actionable insights. Without the a centralized CI support, they may remain in siloes (option not to fix a light at my gate) – thus the organization may miss out on an opportunity or a critical information that could have made it take a timely decision.

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