Competitive Intelligence FAQ

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FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Competitive Intelligence?

CI is a necessary, ethical business discipline for decision making based on understanding the competitive environment.

Why is CI important?

The pace of technological development and the growth of global trade mean that today's business environment changes more quickly than ever before. Executives can no longer afford to rely on instinct or intuition when making strategic business decisions. In many industries, the consequence of making one wrong decision may be to see the company go out of business. Research shows that competitive intelligence increases management's strategic planning "comfort level."

Does CI really make a difference to the bottom line?

Yes. Research shows that companies with well-established CI programs enjoy greater earnings per share than companies in the same industry without CI programs. Moreover, "In a recession, competitive intelligence can pay off big," reported Business Week magazine in its Nov 26, 2001 issue. Among the examples cited: At Texas Instruments, the CI team uncovered the need to pursue an acquisition before a rival could do so "and safeguard what is now a $100 million business with enormous growth potential at a time when bright spots on the tech horizon are few."

Among the findings in a March 2002 Trendsetter Barometer survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers: Fast-growth CEOs who rated competitor information as being either "very" or "critically" important grew revenues by 14.2 %, versus 11.8% for all others -- a 20% faster rate. Significantly, those placing a premium on competitor information are outperforming their peers on sustained revenue growth, gross margins, and a number of other key performance measures.

Consider a 2001 marketing case study presented by Clifford Kalb, former SCIP president, and vice president of strategic business analysis at the pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co., Inc. According to Mr. Kalb (and as reported in CI Magazine, Jan./Feb 2002), Merck's CI group was responsible for developing a counterstrategy to a competitor's forthcoming product rollout that, over a period of 30 months has enabled Merck to "anticipate and outmaneuver the competition," and resulted in "saving approximately $200 million to the bottom line -- so far." And the estimated boost to the bottom line could go as high as $400 million.

Is CI truly valued in the business community?

Yes. In companies all over the world, SCIP members are enabling executives to make the informed decisions that keep companies responsive, well-positioned, and profitable. The March 25, 2002 online edition of Time magazine looked at how, post-9/11, executives are demanding better information not only about security risks, but about threats to their competitive edge as well.

Robert Flynn, the former CEO and chairman of NutraSweet, said in a keynote address to the Society's ninth annual conference that CI was worth up to $50 million each year to his company. The demand for CI professionals suggests that other CEOs agree: A recent study by SCIP finds that salaries for CI professionals have increased 21% in the last two years, from an average of $57,000 in 1995 to an average of $69,000 in 1997.

How large is the CI market?

The market for business intelligence is worth about $2 billion a year worldwide, including services ranging from detailed investigations to clipping news articles, according to Kroll Inc. (as reported by Reuters on Sept. 2, 2001). In a survey of SCIP members, over 25% said their company's total CI spending in 2000 topped $100,000. Almost 14% said their company spent over $500,000.

How many firms have formal CI systems?

According to a survey by researchers at The Futures Group, in 1997 a full 82% of companies with annual revenues over $10 billion had an organized system for collecting information on rivals, while 60% of all surveyed U.S. companies had an organized intelligence system (up from 58% two years earlier).

Isn't it true that CI is only important for big businesses?

No. Clearly, executives at many global companies -- like Xerox, IBM, and Motorola -- have already realized the importance of CI and have developed their own operations. But small businesses, like large corporations, must compete in the marketplace. It's just as important for decision makers in small businesses to know what lies ahead as for CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.

Is it possible for a company to practice some form of CI without realizing it?

Yes. Any employee who visits a trade show, reads a newspaper, or talks to friends in the same industry is doing research (one of the components of CI). But other CI components are often missing in businesses today. CI adds value to information gathering and strategic planning by introducing a disciplined system not only to gather information, but also to perform analysis and disseminate findings tailored to the needs of decision makers.

Is CI espionage?

No. Espionage is the use of illegal means to gather information. It isn't necessary to use illegal or unethical methods in CI. In fact, doing so represents a failure of CI, since almost anything decision makers need to know about the competitive environment can be discovered using legal, ethical means. Most information that can't be found through open-source collection and ethical inquiry can be deduced by using a variety of analytical tools -- just one of the ways CI adds value to an organization. By joining SCIP, a member agrees to abide by the Society's Code of Ethics, which forbids breaching an employer's guidelines, breaking the law, or misrepresenting oneself.

Are CI and counterintelligence the same thing?

No. The term counterintelligence describes the steps an organization takes to protect information sought by "hostile" intelligence gatherers. One of the most effective counterintelligence measures is to define "trade secret" information relevant to the company and control its dissemination.