This post focuses on one of the hardest steps in providing intelligence or insights to decision-makers – identifying Users Needs and the direction of an Intelligence Assignment.
The Competitive Intelligence process is defined as “a systematic and on-going process forgathering and analysing information to derive actionable insights about competitors, the competitive environment and trends in order to further the organization’s business goals” (Adapted from Fleisher & Bensoussan, 2003).
Whether you are doing competitive intelligence, market intelligence, strategic intelligence, consulting, or providing support for decision-makers, the first step is to identify the client’s key question or objective and then plan the direction of the assignment.
Experience has shown that identifying Key Intelligence Topics (KIT)/Key Intelligence Questions (KIQ) to be one of the hardest steps. Executives are often like kids in a candy store to start with, believing that any question, focus or topic will do – only to find the answers often provide little, if any, strategic value.
It is absolutely vital that there is an understanding of what the “customer” (the decision-maker) really wants, where they are coming from, and how the insights will be directly related to a management decision or course of action.
A good example of the need to understand intelligence questions occurred several years ago when a client brought us in for a CI assignment and asked us to tell them ‘who is who in the zoo’ in relation to a particular market segment”. In order to understand their key focus and provide value, we asked the basic of all basic CI questions “What decision will you be supporting with this information?” The answer – “Should we enter this market niche?”
Wow, how different was the assignment now.
We immediately realised that in order to answer their original question, we would have delivered little strategic value.
The key was in understanding that what the client really wanted to know and the reasons behind the question.
Formulate the goal you want to achieve.
For example, the goal may be – “Is it worth my while to spend $500,000 developing Product X?” or “What would be the most effective way of entering this market?” or “Is there a market for my services in Asia and if so, how do I do it?”
The goal, whatever it may be, will in effect drive your information gathering process and keep you focussed.
Too many times research projects fall over because of poor identification and understanding of the topic or question, and its relationship to the business. It is really worthwhile spending time here to understand your decision-makers.
Scope out the project parameters.
- Who needs the intelligence?
- What business decision is being supported?
- What specific information is required?
- What are some potential sources of information?
- What are the assumptions implicit in the KIT?KIQ?
- What method of analysis should be undertaken to answer the KIT/KIQ?
- What form should the final ‘report’ take?
- When is it needed?
- What are the budget constraints?
It is a waste of time and resources to ask too broad a question to start off with. It will always deliver little value.
Break down the decision focus into three areas:
- Early Warning Issues– these typically stress activities and subjects by which management does not want to be surprised. They are heavily weighted toward threats.
- Strategic and Tactical Issues– these relate predominantly to the development of strategic plans and strategies. However issues around the implementation of marketing or sales tactics are also identified in this area.
- Market Player Profiles – these are the least actionable but reflect a need to understand a “player” in a particular market.
The approach outlined above enables a clearer focus on the specific types of questions and the irrelation to company strategic issues, competitor issues or factors that cost the company money whether for today or tomorrow.
The more specific questions are to start off with, the easier it will be to build up decision support, intelligence abilities, and deliver value.
Ask the right questions.
It has often been said that the critical factor is not the information we get but the questions we ask. Often we ask questions that are either too broad or too convoluted to be able to provide us with a specific response. In the end we often end up with information that is of little strategic value.
So start with questions that are quite specific and result in a specific response. The important thing to remember in all of this is that intelligence works for the business.
Businesses have a purpose, an intent, and all intelligence activity must be carried out for, and focus on, the intent of the business – otherwise why bother!! To get information for the sake of getting it is really a waste of time – especially in today’s climate of information overload and fake news.
The key is in understanding what you really need to know, where you are coming from, and how the intelligence will be directly related to a management decision or course of action.
Analyse your information.
Once the issues around the KIT/KIQ have been clearly defined and agreed to, a plan and direction of how the assignment will be undertaken can then be formulated. The major focus is not just the identification of sources of information but what method of analysis will be used to turn the information into intelligence and insights. Let me say at this point that there are over 170 methods of analysis in business, and picking the appropriate methodology is critical to delivering value. It is through analysis that information is turned into intelligence.
Insights are created – they’re never found!