Ezmeralda Sager, vice president at Booz Allen, leads corporate strategy focused on enterprise strategy, planning, and strategic insights for the company.
Sagar recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding the qualifications, benefits and challenges inherent when working within the field of competitive intelligence (CI), including finding the right talent, dealing with a deluge of data, and analyzing the unique GovCon sector.
“I’ve developed my expertise from different perspectives. When I was client-facing, competitive intelligence was important for bids and procurement. Now that I’m on the corporate side of our business, we’re using competitive intelligence to look holistically at ‘big muscle’ moves that impact the firm’s specific markets. This requires a much broader perspective, but it gives me an appreciation for why both are important and how they tie together to deliver key insights.”
ArchIntel: What skillsets are needed to work within the competitive intelligence market?
“I’ve found that it’s often not as important to have a specific education as it is to have some of the skills that a person can bring to the competitive intelligence sector from a variety of backgrounds. Competitive intelligence practitioners can come from multiple industries, but curiosity is essential for someone who wants to really understand the environment and the complexities of our business and market.
We seek people who are good thinkers, who have strong communication skills and are able to translate insights and information into consumable analysis. That drive needs to continue until they feel that they’ve found the insights they needed.
Within my team, we have a broad range of backgrounds — everything from engineering to finance to biology and political science. It’s definitely not a one size fits all. When I was part of our Strategic Innovation Group, I was one of the leaders on our data science team, and it was very similar in that the team’s aptitude for critical thinking and analysis were just as important as their technical background.
There is also value in having people who are considered true CI practitioners, who’ve been in the market for years. They understand the industry in-depth, the competitive landscape and how it has evolved. It’s important to continue bringing in new eyes and continue developing our collective thinking. Our team is made up of both. That has been successful for us.”
ArchIntel: In his 1982 book Megatrends, John Naisbitt wrote “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” Do you still find that to be true?
“I think it’s still very true today and even more so given the deluge of data and industry news that’s presented daily. The amount of data available today can be overwhelming. It’s absolutely critical to have a strong and skilled team to push boundaries and analyze data in different ways.
The art is having the capabilities to decipher that information into knowledge, or actionable intelligence, which is the most important aspect to our business and stakeholders. I believe that trend will continue to increase over time.”
ArchIntel: How do you determine what data to include and reject during research and analysis?
“For our leaders, what matters is what’s unique and what can give them a different perspective to consider. We look for data that is truly valuable. For example, the tech market continues to evolve in our environmental scanning, so we continue to analyze technology to see where emerging tech is headed.
If you’re seeing different trends, such as specific investments that are occurring, we need to understand what we may have looked at the last time we did the analysis and what has evolved. It’s those pieces of data that make a difference. It’s based on our judgment in terms of what we think is most helpful, given everything that we see on a daily basis.”
ArchIntel: What makes competitive collection in government contracting (GovCon) so unique?
“What’s interesting about GovCon is all competitors have a baseline of the same information through open source data and systems such as the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). It’s really what you do with that basis and then the additional data you collect that truly gives you insight, which is different than some of the other sectors.
For example, by collecting and analyzing as FPDS data, we can start to put together puzzle pieces, but that can’t be your only source of intelligence. Our team continually scans the markets and collaborates across the firm to serve as an early warning system for disruptive changes that we see in the landscape.”
ArchIntel: What advice would you give regarding the horizon scanning for new companies entering the market?
“It’s an ever-changing market for the government, and it’s moving even faster than it has in the past. Horizon scanning is critical to understand emerging technology and the challenging competitor set that is constantly evolving.
Within our industry, we have OEMs that are adding service businesses, and we have technology companies and other organizations that are entrenching themselves in the space and bringing new products and services. These companies are going directly against procurements that we may have traditionally gone after ourselves. That is on top of a market where consolidation is at an all-time high.
Active horizon scanning allows us to capture these disruptions, analyze the environment and look at where we need to differentiate ourselves to position the business for success. Horizon scanning is very important and an ongoing, active condition.”
ArchIntel: What components are important to include within a competitive intelligence report?
“We always want to mix the right quantitative and qualitative data in our reports. It’s interesting because everyone has different takeaways from the analysis. We need to be able to provide visuals, heavy data components, and/or high-level takeaways depending on the audience.
We try to tailor our reports to the audience. It’s important to know if your audience has five minutes or five hours to review the analysis. We definitely try to develop the right level of analysis, while also being able to tailor and customize as needed.
It’s also important to understand how your audience will be using your report, so that’s a large focal point we consider when developing a summary. If our readers will want a deep dive analysis on something, it’s going to be a more significant report. The key takeaways still have to be simple and clear enough that someone could either read the one page or 10 page and get the same highlights.”