Steven Stratton, senior director of Product Management at Forcepoint Global Government and Critical Infrastructure, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding competitive intelligence (CI). Stratton explained how to differentiate your business to appeal to customers, how to derive and aggregate data and how to then utilize that data to retain and gain more customers in the field.
“Competitive intelligence has taught me the horizon scanning lesson. Keep your eyes up. Don’t constrain yourself to the traditional or popular ways of watching the horizon. There are few limited places where you can scrape or collect useful information. That mindset and inquisitiveness is where you’re going to find useful nuggets.”
ArchIntel: You’ve worked with customers within the government for much of your career, which gives you a unique perspective on how the public sector approaches competitive intelligence. How has this knowledge helped you at Forcepoint, and how has your use of competitive intelligence evolved over the course of your profession?
Steven: “Over the past 30 years or so I’ve worked with Raytheon, DLT, and other large companies. I’ve managed a number of products and sales initiatives that focus on helping federal agencies use their data assets to gain better intelligence.
As such, I bring a lengthy history and understanding of this space, and I know how big companies think and bid. I took that knowledge to Forcepoint, where I manage product development for a number of government-focused solutions, including our Trusted Thin Client, which provides secure access to critical data across sensitive networks.
I’ve seen an increase in competitive intelligence initiatives as technology has evolved. Today there are many good tools available to help you profile your competition and understand their technologies.”
ArchIntel: What makes CI different in government contracting (GovCon) and how do you address challenges in the sector?
Steven: “Competition can come from homegrown tools that have been developed within the government itself. Unlike a commercial company, agencies don’t need to market these solutions. Therefore, it can be difficult to gain visibility into their capabilities.”
ArchIntel: How does classification influence your strategy and research, and how does that mold your competitive intelligence?
Steven: “In the absence of competitor data, we proactively engage with customers and prospects to understand their requirements. This outreach has taken the place of what I remember from the early 2000’s, especially on the commercial side where I could physically go and see what my customers and competitors were using and offering.
Fortunately, Forcepoint has a lot of unique differentiators and selling points that set us apart, including our commitment to high security standards. Our solutions have received a number of certifications and our Trusted Thin Client and SimShield products meet the NSA’s Raise the Bar guidelines for cross-domain security.”
ArchIntel: John Naisbitt, in 1982, said that we’re drowning in information but starved for knowledge. Do you still think that’s true?
Steven: “Certainly. The challenge is to break that vast amount of information down into smaller, manageable chunks and make it useful.
At Forcepoint, our product management team uses specific data to create effective marketing assets. We start by looking at data around product capabilities and new players coming into our market. Then, we often create side-by-side comparisons so that it’s easy to see how our products stack up to our competitors’ offerings.
For example, for our Trusted Thin Client Remote product, we focus on the fact that it provides secure remote access across multiple domains of different classification levels, all on a single device. That’s a huge differentiator compared to what our competitors offer.
There are other competitive advantages we enjoy. For instance, we have six to eight months of NSA lab testing and, as I mentioned, certifications that prove our products’ capabilities. These factors enable us to beat some of our competition automatically.”
ArchIntel: How useful is Porter’s Model for determining your competitive advantage?
Steven: “I am a proponent of Porter’s Model because it provides me the ability to categorize and make appropriate use of our data. A major part of CI is collecting a ton of data, but once you do so, that data needs to impact your decisions and provide you with actionable intelligence.
Data doesn’t really do a company any good unless it can be analyzed and placed in context. For example, if we’re going to develop a new capability, we have to first determine how that capability will help us to remain competitive in the market and set us apart from our competition. That, in turn, helps us determine how much money we should spend on developing that capability, how we market the capability, and so on.”
ArchIntel: Do government privacy regulations create problems within GovCon and competitive intelligence?
Steven: “As I said, it can sometimes be difficult to gain intelligence when solutions are being developed in-house and kept so close to the vest.
For example, an agency could present their own internally-developed product as if it were the only choice available for securing remote connectivity into classified networks. The truth is, there might be better options available through industry partners, and those options might help agencies access data more securely efficiently.
Unfortunately, it can often take the government two or three years to find out that an industry partner has the precise offering they’ve been looking for. That’s what CI is all about—collecting information and sharing it.”
ArchIntel: What advice would you give to somebody regarding horizon scanning for new competitors?
Steven: “Look at universities and DARPA to try to figure out the government’s initiatives. Ask, ‘What are the things that are going on in this space?’ Pay attention to the other tech centers that may have an impact.
Refer to the Department of Defense (DoD) placemat, which is a good resource for indications of what the top 10 tasks are on the desks of Dana Deasy and other influential leaders. And, finally, remember that collaboration is key. For example, I often work closely with our distinguished engineers and CTO to get a sense of the overall environment.
Keep an eye out for new competition, which can sometimes come from an unlikely place. A developer working on a side project, for example, might create a tool that can scan trillions of rows of data and find the needle in the haystack. Stay vigilant and prepared to respond when new innovations enter the market.”
The bottom line is that you need to continuously play detective. Always try to uncover new data while keeping your eyes on the future.”