Bridget Medeiros, senior vice president and chief growth officer for NCI Information Systems, Inc. (NCI), recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding how the company has developed its competitive intelligence unit, how to analyze data, as well as the tools and government offerings used to collect data. She also discussed the importance of networking and creating a diverse team to provide multiple perspectives on competitive insights and the marketplace.
“Diversity is critical within the capture team. We also gauge our industry network and personal relationships to provide indications of how a competitor might behave. Knowing your network, your relationships and your experiences, then testing that against the information that is shareable in the public, can position yourself against your competition.
The most important thing to me is how we incorporate competitive intelligence into our decision making process, then determining if it is worth the investment we’re making.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success within competitive intelligence?
“We measure success at NCI by determining how the analysis leads to decision making in our capture and new opportunities. We see this in the business outcome, and measure it by how competitive intelligence allows us to be a data point of information that tells us about the competitive landscape.
Then we measure that by saying, ‘What is the business outcome that we received from that information? How do we trend over time to see if we’re improving or if the data is actually showing to be relevant and appropriate?’
We have a repository of data that we make accessible to our capture teams and our leadership, then we trend that data to see how close we were in terms of the price to win, in terms of the actual price and in terms of how we self-identified.
We assess our technical capabilities against our competitors to see how a customer evaluates us based on that information. We like to see the variance between how we assessed the competitive landscape and what the customer actually needs. We then trend that data to see how it is improving over time.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the significant lessons learned throughout your career in competitive intelligence?
“It is never ending. You learn something new on every single opportunity. NCI has really transformed its approach to the government services business over the last three years, as we moved from staff augmentation to solutions differentiated by AI. We’ve actually had to change how we look at the competitive landscape.
We really focus on the customer requirements, and what type of work they are looking for us to respond to, whether that is services or products, or firm fixed price versus cost plus. We use those details to determine whether or not we have the right domain expertise to assess the competitive landscape.
The trending landscape is critical. We believe the trending over time allows us to improve the process, so that we can focus on the intelligence we have gathered, validated and analyzed, so that we can be confident in taking those findings to our leadership team, who will make key decisions based on it.
ArchIntel: Does your perspective on competitive intelligence change as your company’s goals do?
“Our competitive landscape, as a midtier, we compete against both sides. We compete against the large system integrators as well as the small businesses who are growing in the field, so we have to understand the entire competitive landscape.
Then we have to deep dive on the differentiators between us — for instance, in the artificial intelligence (AI) market and those relative competitors. System integrators have a lot more research and development (R&D) dollars, where the small businesses play within niche specializations. Our competitive intelligence focuses on where our strategies are going compared to the strategy of those competitors.”
ArchIntel: How do you integrate a competitive intelligence division within a company?
“We actually had to do this three years ago. When I joined NCI, we didn’t have a competitive intelligence expertise within this company, and we usually had to outsource that. However, we found that it was really important to our strategy to have this expertise on the significant bids that we’re going after.
We prioritized that in our resource plan to develop that competitive intelligence unit and we’re super fortunate to have someone within our network that has more than 30 years of being within this market. He has established our program and has implemented it so that we have almost four years of data that shows how we’ve improved over time.
We focus our competitive intelligence expertise on the top ten bids we’re interested in during the year, but we also figure out how to partner. One of our core values is to collaborate and we are very open to collaboration.
As we have significant partnerships with other large integrators, we make our competitive intelligence available for that bid to that partner. We believe that a true partnership is in sharing to win the bid.
We selectively partner and then we selectively pick which opportunities are most in our ability to win. Our CI helps us determine those partnerships as well as the ways we can differentiate ourselves to be best positioned to win an opportunity.”
ArchIntel: What are the benefits of sharing data with your partners when information tends to be proprietary and protected in the market?
“We have been very fortunate to have partners who have embraced data sharing. As we share information, they share it back. We keep it very non-proprietary. We give them the backend of our work, but we will share our results.
We have a scorecard that shares the top competitors in the field, how we think they’ll score on the technical side and where we think they’ll come up in price. If you share that scorecard, then they can use it and validate it within their own competitive intelligence division.
That allows us to be collaborative and see what it will take to win the job. Nine out of ten times that we’ve done that, we won the competition because of our open, collaborative forum. At NCI, we have to be very tactical in our competitive intelligence.
We have to look at our pipeline and understand where we are going to plant our resources and where we are going to spend our resource dollars to prioritize what’s important to us.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the larger ethical challenges that influence decision making?
“Our core values are trust and integrity. That has to be your foundational baseline walking into this business because it’s so important and we train to those values. Anytime we have a capture team that’s going to get an analysis on the competitive field, we state at the very beginning that everything has to be non-proprietary if you’ve worked for another company.
We don’t want to know anything about anything that isn’t in the public domain, or releasable data. We’re very clear on what the bar is in terms of what we can use and what we cannot use. Then we test to see if that information is something we’d want other companies to have about us. That’s our main question: if somebody knew that about us, would it be acceptable and ethical in line with our values? We have to clearly state our ground rules, and we will not tolerate anything less.”
ArchIntel: How do you use competitive intelligence to position yourself in the competitive landscape?
“We focus on the process and the tools as opposed to the competitors’ rates or how they price offerings. However, we really focus on the processes we would use to create the price to win and what tools we have available. We do invest in several tools, and there are also free tools available such as PDFs and GAO protest reports.
There are also subscription tools you can buy that allow you to get the data you need on the competitive field, which gives you insight into how competitors have won jobs in the past. We have focused on those two things: putting a reusable process in place and ensuring we have the right tools, based on our competitive landscape, to help us figure out the right way to position ourselves against competition.”
ArchIntel: What makes competitive intelligence unique in the government contracting (GovCon) sector?
“The thing I love about this field is the transparency of our government. Our government procurement officials work really hard to ensure that we have transparency of the decision making and evaluation criteria.
They also make information readily available through GAO protests, the federal quarter claims decisions, the procurement database, as well as our debriefs. In over my 30 years of experience in this industry, I’ve seen a lot of differentiation in debriefs.
The ones we’ve received over the last few years have been very helpful in understanding what’s important to the government and how they’re making decisions. Another key element is freedom of information act (FOIA). That’s what’s really unique about us versus the commercial sector.
We can track how our competitors are progressing in performance, which helps us get more data in terms of our positioning against an incumbent. It does take a lot of research. Those networks and connections can tell you about the customer and give you more information that will help you make those decisions.”