Lisa Faherty-Vance, senior business development analyst for Vectrus, spoke with ArchIntel recently regarding the lessons she’s learned in competitive intelligence data, the essential skills required, implementing a competitive intelligence program from scratch, the consistent ethical challenges exist in CI collection and what makes competitive intelligence unique in government contracting (GovCon).
“Competition is global. Using great tools and resources that update often and tapping into other regional resources helps keep companies ahead of the game in understanding competitors, no matter their location.”
ArchIntel: What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned from your experience with competitive intelligence?
“I’ve been doing CI analysis for over 30 years. The practice has changed significantly over time (hello and thank you, Internet!) in terms of how data is collected.
All data is not equal; not all sources are current or accurate.
The timeliness of data collection and use of reliable data sources are critical to developing robust research practices. The amount of data you analyze will contribute to a very good (or very bad) value proposition to your customers.
Data must be validated.
90%, perhaps 95%, of data competitor data sought is available through public sources. Most of the rest can be deduced through insight and the collective knowledge of your organization.
People in your organization are remain one of your most valuable resources.”
ArchIntel: What skills do you think are essential for someone who wants to work in competitive intelligence? What kind of education?
“A business degree or MBA are suitable, as is a degree with coursework focused on data mining, effective use of artificial intelligence, etc. Critical thinking skills are very important.
But CI analysis is not all science, it’s also part art. A good CI Analyst is curious, sees the need to dig deeper for answers and willingly runs down a rabbit hole for until a key piece of data is found, confirmed or invalidated. Having a strong intuitive sense is also very important. This helps an analyst pull together seemingly disparate bits of data to reveal important competitor information.
Any CI Analyst who believes clandestine data capture is required, is not very good at their job. Most of the data is out there; it’s the ability to collect (from research sources and your organization’s collective knowledge) and correctly analyze and interpret the information, that makes a good CI Analyst.
Perhaps most important for any researcher is having a complete and thorough grasp of the context for needing the critically important competitor data. It’s not simply fulfilling a client’s research request to “get me everything you have on Company X”. It’s drilling down with your client to understand that what they really want to know is “everything about Product Z that Company X just rolled out, because they beat us to market”.
Analysis of Company X will then take a more focused approach that includes not only their product capabilities and differentiators, but also Company X’s processes that enabled them to get to market so fast. The recommendations from the CI Analyst might then reveal that your company needs to improve its NPD processes to compete more effectively in the marketplace.”
ArchIntel: How do you recommend prioritizing the implementation of a competitive intelligence program?
“Having a champion in the senior leadership team is critical for long term success and establishing a CI practice. This person is responsible for raising awareness of the new CI Program in the organization and making sure ALL employees know they can contribute to organizational knowledge on competition.
An accountable CI director/manager is of second importance. This person should have at least a decade of experience and effective management skills to direct the CI team. Depending on the company, the CI function is either one of multiple duties for other roles, such a new product developer, salesperson, or operations manager; or it is a dedicated function. With a dedicated function, more objectivity can be inserted into the CI research and analysis process.
Just like any other business function, establishing the CI program must consider:
Why is the CI program needed? Who is the senior leadership champion?
What are the benefits of a CI program?
What are the outcomes/outputs/deliverables desired?
Who are the internal clients receiving the CI data and analysis?
What analyses are they receiving and how often?
What guidelines, rules, regulations are in place to ensure ethics and integrity of data collection?
What tools will support a CI program success?
How will the CI Program’s success be measured?”
ArchIntel: How do YOU measure success in competitive intelligence?
Effectiveness of market strategy
ArchIntel: Megatrends author John Naisbitt wrote in 1982 “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge,” how true is that today?
“Compared to 1982, the amount of information available to us at our fingertip has grown 1000’s-fold. The ability to distill an overwhelming amount of data into actionable recommendations is key to success.”
ArchIntel: How do you build an effective competitive intelligence team?
“Having CI Analysts with backgrounds in key areas may enhance outputs, e.g., an analyst with a cyber background or consumer product background, NPD or sales, depending on the type of business. Likewise, someone on the team with historical company knowledge or legal expertise can be of value, depending on outputs desired.”
ArchIntel: What unique ethical challenges exist in the collection of competitive intelligence?
“There are still those who want to play the “spy” game and pretend they’re someone else to try and get data, e.g., “Hi, I’m Brian, a college student doing a research paper on government contracting. Can you tell me what your company did to win Contract ABC with Customer XYZ?” This used to happen more than it does now because companies appear much more focused on Ethics and employees are trained to recognize fraudulent operators.”
ArchIntel: How does the competitive intelligence sector need to improve to keep pace with the rapid growth of international competition?
“We’re already there. Competition is global. Using great tools and resources that update often and tapping into other regional resources helps keep companies ahead of the game in understanding competitors, no matter their location. Global companies also have access to personnel in those markets to further understanding of the competition.”
ArchIntel: What are the challenges associated with new companies implementing CI methods for the first time?
“See #4 above. Being clear about why CI methods are needed, who the audience is, what tools are needed, and how a CI program’s success will be measured are key elements that must be addressed and planned for before starting any CI program.”
ArchIntel: What makes competitive intelligence collection in the government contracting sector unique?
“Defense contractors have roles as both competitors and partners, “Competi-mates”. Ethics are important to protecting company data shared on one program that cannot be shared on others when working with a repeat teammate.
Because the government publishes so much contract-related data, it is easy to know what competitors are doing and develop a great understanding of them from both the competitor and teammate perspectives.”
ArchIntel: How useful is Porter’s Model in building an effective strategy?
“It’s a good framework for understanding competition and should be incorporated by companies implementing a CI Program.”
ArchIntel: What advice would you give regarding “Horizon Scanning” for emerging new competitors?
“A good CI Analyst always has radar on to identify potential new competitors and threats.”
ArchIntel: What components are important in a competitive intelligence report?
Relevance and insight
Consistency of delivery