Tim Tibbits, executive director of Business Development and Strategy and Engineering Division Head with Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC), recently spoke with Archintel regarding the recent developments of competitive intelligence (CI), how it can help transform businesses and the processes to CI analytics.
“You have to figure out what sources you can trust, why you trust them, and the extent you can believe them. We’ll likely only get more frustrated as information continues to flood in. It’s all about how you find that needle in the haystack. That’s very difficult to do when there’s a lot more hay.”
ArchIntel: What are the significant lessons that you’ve learned through competitive intelligence?
“The first thing to remember is to never overestimate what you know, nor underestimate what you don’t know. The only thing that matters is establishing an information advantage over your competitors.
It’s also very important to learn that information is not knowledge. We have access to amazing tidbits of information, but the key within intelligence is to be able to put the whole picture together and turn it into meaningful knowledge that is actionable. That allows you to develop strategy, or change your approach to improve your output.
You have to turn your data into something knowledgeable to either correct a misperception with the client or inform the client on how you can provide a better solution than your competition. It is important to note that just because you know someone, that doesn’t mean you know something for sure. If the information cannot be validated, then you can’t treat the information as ‘fact.’”
ArchIntel: Within the sector of competitive intelligence, what are the necessary requirements and qualifications for someone to work in the field?
“I do not believe that higher education is the end all be all, or at least it is not necessarily required to be successful in this sector. For example, one of our best competitive intelligence experts at Concurrent Technologies Corporation just recently earned her associate’s degree.
The most important attribute for somebody involved in competitive intelligence is an insatiable curiosity and thirst for information. They want to know as much as possible, and no formal education can replace that ambition for knowledge.
To develop our CI workforce, I train those people to be able to organize information in a meaningful way. The next aspect is working to discover the meaning behind your data. I require my competitive intelligence workforce to provide an opinion on what they think all the collected information means and what their assumptions are based on.
In addition, the people that conduct and gather our competitive intelligence need to have an understanding of the type of work that our firm conducts. Concurrent Technologies Corporation is a professional services organization. Our workforce is required to be familiar with the keywords we need while searching as well as the models that we use to conduct business.
Since we are a government contracting (GovCon) business, we look for people with a firm knowledge of how the government procures work, the formulas they use and notable federal clients.
When you boil the qualifications down, a winning combination for a competitive intelligence expert is knowledge of the business and the market space you’re working in and an insatiable curiosity for more knowledge. Once you have your workforce with those qualifications, give them responsibility and let them run with it.”
ArchIntel: What are the most common challenges that you face with analysis in competitive intelligence and how do you overcome them?
“What your information means, how to handle conflicting sources, and how to get to a determination of what is really true all pose a big challenge. People that mistake information for knowledge pose a greater threat. You have to be able to source your intel.
You can also create challenges for yourself by overestimating what you know, or overestimating what your competition knows. Everyone strives for information. It’s just as hard for other companies to get information as it is for you. The biggest challenge is how to turn data into meaningful, actionable information that can add to your win percentage.
I like to bring in outsiders, contracts and finance personnel, who are involved in contracts because they see things from a different perspective when we’re dealing with their counterparts at companies who are in contracting, accounting or finance. These people help combat the real challenges.
There is a ton of information within these divisions, but a lot of people discount them because they’re only getting their point of view from an executive. You’re not always going to get it right, but being able to adapt and change course is equally as important as deciding a path to take. As an analyst, you need to be able to admit when you’re wrong.”
ArchIntel: What do you do when you misproject a theory? How do you adapt to the changing information?
“You have to get over it and not blame anyone else in the process. This is not a perfect science. In most cases, there’s nobody to blame. You did the best you could. The key is to figure out what went wrong and where you can improve.
For smaller mistakes that haven’t necessarily led to a loss, CI analysts need to radically adjust course and ask if that mistake will make a difference in winning or losing. If it doesn’t make a difference; I’d let it lie and chalk it up to experience.
If a mistake constituted a loss, you have to change course and modify your approach accordingly based on the mistake you made. Everybody in our business is trying to get information as quickly as possible without wasting resources. Sometimes, you have to admit that the other team was better and move on to the next step.”
ArchIntel: How do you personally measure success in competitive intelligence?
“The best measure of success is winning. If my competitive intelligence helps me win, then we were successful. Even if all of the elements may not have been exactly correct. First and foremost, winning is the most important thing.
Obviously, you’re not going to win everything. You do need to ask yourself if what you learned will maximize your probability percentage? Do I know more than my competition? That’s very difficult to measure in this sector because you don’t always know what your competition does.
The goal is to figure out how to win opportunities and repackage those wins into your offerings in order to be more attractive to the client. That often contributes to future success. If you can help, you add to the bottom line.
Sometimes, adding to the bottom line is about realizing when you can compete and where you need to pull back. There’s nothing worse than wasting resources when you think you’re gathering a lot of intelligence and then continually losing. You know something is not correct in that scenario.”
ArchIntel: Author John Naisbitt wrote that we’re drowning in information, but we’re starving for knowledge, so what are your thoughts on megatrends?
“I think that that’s probably never been more true than it is today. That’s mainly due to the explosion of access to information over the past 15 years. Everyone seemingly has access to a ton of information every day, but the difficulty comes in how you piece it all together. Rival companies can also use deceptive techniques to try to employ counterintelligence against competitors.
You have to figure out what sources you can trust, why you trust them and the extent you can believe them. We’ll likely only get more frustrated as information continues to flood in. It’s all about how you find that needle in the haystack. That’s very difficult to do when there’s a lot more hay.”
ArchIntel: What kind of unique ethical challenges do you see fairly often within the realm of competitive intelligence?
“Gathering the open-source information and trying to find more information is not unethical, but there are a few people who may be unethical in the ways they go about it. As long as you are true to your own principles, you can address any ethical challenges.
The government particularly has a laundry list of rules and regulations, many of which are misunderstood by the people using them. You have to be able to navigate the gray areas. If you happen to come across something that was intentionally or unintentionally illicitly obtained, you need to understand how to go about addressing that situation.
Do you use it? Ignore it? It’s always a challenge when you’re talking about non-publicly accessible information. Publicly accessible data is easy. The standard for intelligence, the data that’s not broadly available to everyone out there, you have to know how to treat that intelligence and what safeguards you have in place to make sure no one violates your core principles.
It’s very complex. It’s easy to walk the line when you know where the line is, but extremely difficult if that line is blurred. Senior leadership needs to be able to explain what their core principles are and, more importantly, operate by them all the time without exception.”