What is a CIP Professional?
“We do more than train and educate. We help build careers in competitive intelligence, strategy and in overall management. We truly do believe in ensuring our graduates have an impact in their organizations – and throughout their careers.”
There are few examples in the history of business where managers and employees were trusted with new tasks with such minimal training and background to guide them. Yet this is the case with the majority of competitive intelligence professionals. The results are several myths and misconceptions regarding what competitive intelligence professionals need or need not know. So let’s set the record straight.
Competitive intelligence professionals come from a variety of functional and professional backgrounds and even more diverse academic backgrounds. They do not all have MBAs. The uniquely eclectic nature of competitive intelligence makes general knowledge critical. Knowledge of cultures, psychology, economics, and history all play an important role in preparing competitive intelligence assessments. An ideal preparation for CI professionals is in-depth industry knowledge combined with specialized training. This combination is far superior to intelligence background or MBA alone.
The prominent role of accumulated industry knowledge is one reason why any attempt to teach CI as a pure “academic” discipline is doomed. Our experience in academia (Ben Gilad had been a business professor for 18 years) and in the government (Jan Herring has been a senior CIA analyst) as well as in the business world (Leonard Fuld established his CI research firm in 1979), suggests to us the following: undergraduates with (hypothetically speaking) a BA in “Intelligence Studies,” or a young graduate of an MBA program with a specialization in “Intelligence,” or a retired intelligence operator/analyst from a military/government circle, will all be at a disadvantage compared with a seasoned manager with just a few weeks of our rigorous training in basic intelligence theory and practices.
Most companies prefer to select competitive intelligence professionals from within, after the employee has a few years of industry experience, rather than recruit a CI expert from the outside. The reason is the different shape of the learning curves for intelligence and industry knowledge. It takes longer to master the intricacies of an industry than intelligence cycle’s basic principles. There is also agreement that the CI manager needs managerial skills – communication ability, political astuteness, etc., but all these are secondary. The most significant component is the ability of the CI professional to provide management with insights derived from developments in the industry.
An ability to collect intelligence from human sources (internal or external).
An ability to synthesize (rather than just analyze) disparate industry developments, i.e., see the forest from the trees.
An ability to derive implications, and identify the appropriate actions for one’s company or client.
Competitive intelligence professionals must keep the following distinction clear in their minds: To become intelligence – as contrasted with information- professionals, they must bring perspective to their reports. Intelligence is information that was placed in context which made it relevant for decision making. Intelligence is perspective.
Strategic risk management requires an approach that places at its center the active monitoring of changes in one’s competitive environment. One systematic approach that accomplishes this goal is Strategic Early Warning (SEW). EW is a methodology that has been employed for many years by governments and their military in high-risk environments. Its migration to the business world offers exactly the new thinking required to adapt strategic planning processes to the new competitive reality of the 21st century.
Strategic Early Warning focuses on a deliberate and systematic attempt of delineating strategic uncertainties in one’s industry, the translation of uncertainties to tractable risks and then to operational indicators, the 24/7 processing of weak signals from the environment and the communication of alerts to management. Finally, Strategic Early Warning Systems use existing or refurbished organizational mechanisms to trigger action.
As studies of surprise attacks in military setting showed, true surprise is hardly the norm. Similarly, strategic surprises are very rare in business. Signs of impeding significant industry developments typically appear quite in advance, but companies lacking a systematic strategic early warning process often fail to pick them up due to various organizational obstacles (e.g., short term focus), cultural obstacles (operational efficiencies focus) and “decision pathologies” (groupthink).
Traditional planning processes fail to provide an adequate assessment and reduction of strategic risks. Risk identification in strategy development is not systematic. The relationship between market sensing tools (sales, competitive intelligence, purchasing) and the strategy process, whether formal or informal, is often sub-optimal. The relationship of the formal and informal strategy processes and management action is not linear and the political process of implementation and decision-making often results in late reaction in response to strategic market developments. The result is an under management of strategic risks.
In a 2002 survey of the Academy of Competitive Intelligence, seventy five percent of the 164 companies surveyed described their management reaction to strategic shifts in its industry as too slow. Only eighteen percent described pro-active or at least action-oriented companies. The failure of traditional planning mechanisms to provide early warning for the effective management of strategic risks was demonstrated by another response to the above survey: Fully ninety-two percent of respondents replied that their company was surprised between 1-3 times in the past 5 years by events with a potential for a significant impact on long-term market position. Twenty five percent of those counted more than 3 such events in the past 5 years! The failure was in exactly the strategic risks that matter most: competitors’ breakthrough moves, new entry into one’s industry, technology substitution, and changing customers’ needs.
Our experience suggests four prototypes of companies in the space of early warning failures: The “Analytical”, “Tactical”, “Couch Potato” and “Blind”. We rank them from better to worse, but keep in mind – if you identify similar symptoms from your company among any of those categories, you need to change before the market does.