Valerie Roberts, senior vice president of Global Strategy with Jacobs’ Critical Mission Solutions business, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding the company’s process to gather competitive intelligence (CI), develop a trustworthy and reliable workforce and how to bid on contracts using actionable intelligence.
“This is a continuously changing landscape. It is not the same day-to-day, so your ability to stay current and remain focused on what is important is critical.”
ArchIntel: What are some significant lessons that you’ve learned with CI and that can be from your career to the transition?
“You have to start with a clear business strategy and know where you want to go, who you want to be and communicate regularly because it is a real system that works between capability and strategy.
This is a continuously changing landscape. It is not the same day-to-day, so your ability to stay current and remain focused on what is important is critical. We have a great database of competitive intelligence and different tracking mechanisms with various sources that we integrate.
However, you can’t rely solely on data. You also must have a human network. It is vital to create a distributed personal network across the business to develop a personal aspect. Make sure that you spend time with in-person networking to give yourself a little bit more color and flavor of the competitive landscape.
It is also very helpful to leverage the business intelligence gained working within mergers and acquisitions (M&A). It is important to spend time with bankers and talk to other businesses. I find that management meetings with other companies are interesting places to learn and gain intelligence. I didn’t learn that until much later in my career.”
ArchIntel: From a strategic standpoint, how do you develop and implement business relationships?
“We call it ‘big moves.’ You must step back and say, here is where we are, these are our strengths and weaknesses, and understand the market conditions as well as your competitors. Once you understand the landscape and develop a logical path forward, then you start to devise larger moves.
You map those moves and take care not to become too diluted. You plan where you are shifting areas of emphasis, decision areas you want to divest and where you want to focus. This takes time because the landscape is always changing.
Things can change, so you need to plan your big moves and then start working towards bigger goals. Gaining alignment is also important because it is an ecosystem between strategy, business development and operations. You need those three components to interact to have real alignment.”
ArchIntel: Within CI, how do you find your talent, work with and develop them for the field?
“It is a combination of traits because we run very lean. I have a small team. For example, when someone has a banking background that can be very helpful. It provides a different analytical perspective. My background is engineering and broad-based business. You need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team, then determine how to fill the gaps.
A common attribute that must be there is absolutely curiosity. You can be analytical, but you really need to be curious and keep asking questions to understand the market and its trends.
There are all these different dynamics, and you have to determine how they fit together. Perseverance is an attribute that is required because you can’t give up, and you must keep going in this field. If you find perseverance in tandem with curiosity, you will find the right kind of individuals.
Confidentiality and ethics are also important. You need somebody who can have the right level of confidentiality and then build sustaining trust. There are a lot of trust relationships at play, and finding those interpersonal skills is also critical.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the ethical challenges you’ve had to face throughout your experience within competitive intelligence?
“Sometimes you will get information that is very sensitive, and you need to understand what to do with that information. You can never cross the line and create an unfair competitive advantage. That is wrong, especially when you are developing proposals on the business development side.
You want to be extremely careful. Within the field, you can put a lot of information together to create a mosaic effect, which creates clearer pictures.
You want to take care of how you use the information because it provides opportunity for buying businesses and seeking out specific individuals to add to your team. You begin to think about how to react to partnerships, acquisitions and hiring for your workforce. You must think carefully and not overuse the information that you have at your disposal.
We develop this dynamic through our distributed network, which is how we often bring people into the company. It is important to have relationships and opportunities, so if we see individuals that fit our culture, we want them to join our team.
Our favorite way of growing organically is through that network. We are publicly traded, and most of our government services competitors are also publicly traded. You need to make sure you do not use any of the information you receive for personal gain. You have to be 1,000 percent above board.
To develop trust within the network, follow your intuition of what is right and what is wrong. I think it is really that basic when you interact with people. Your partners and competitors know if you are being transparent with them. If you are not, they do not want to work with you.
You have a reputation that you build over time by following your strong moral compass. You also know the people that share private information. If you have an individual resource you use, and they are telling you things they shouldn’t, then you know they are telling others things about you that they shouldn’t.”
ArchIntel: How do you manage the massive amount of data that has to be taken into account, as well as the gaps in data from security measures taken by the federal network?
“You have to start to refine data to understand how to create real, actionable intelligence from everything you see and hear. You must understand where to find true, credible information. In addition, you have to stay current and focused without becoming overwhelmed. It boils down to balancing the internal investments.
I frequently work with analysts and compare our data with what we are seeing within our company. You will see this information come in the morning, then you have to quickly get that into the right container. After that, you determine its veracity, compare that with what we have seen in the past and then get a response.
There is so much public information within the government contracting (GovCon) sector. You can analyze the information in different databases to see who is bidding on certain contracts and view company revenues. It’s fascinating.
If you take time, there is a fairly high level of industry relationships as well as a lot of access to different people and activity. Within GovCon, a lot goes into the public record. You have to know who is talking to whom and ask who are the folks that we have on the team that have specific clients to develop your intelligence. It’s a balance.
We invest in the right people and the right place to make sure we understand our government relation(s) to gain the right intelligence. It is an interesting mix of publicly available information, relationships and tracking trends to see where the budgets are moving.”
ArchIntel: How do you decide what to bid on and how do you develop a pipeline?
“We know where we want to play and where we don’t. We maintain good relationships with existing clients, and where we are doing a lot of work is important. We tend to have a network with that client to know what is coming down the pipeline in the near future.
We are always positioned with clients for our three-part sales process, which is a pretty common relationship-based sales model. Early on with our existing client base, we are always working with them to see what is coming next, and then we shape our strategy with areas that we want to engage in.
We gather competitive intelligence based on who shows up at different events and industry data. Potentially, we will strategically hire into those roles to get in and then understand what is going to emerge from that particular client.
We have databases to develop an approach with our existing client-based relationships, and then we work with them to know what will be coming out, as well as new areas, to gain competitive intelligence. Then, we will evaluate our differentiators, our capabilities and the profiles to see if it is consistent with the way we are going-to market with a number of capabilities. As a result, we have a really healthy pipeline.”