By Steven Ramirez, CIP-I, Sr. Principal CI Analyst, Symantec

Remember that ear-splitting anthem from the eighties—“Fight for Your Right” by Beastie Boys? Well, I thought it would make a nice background track for today’s topic. I’ve been serving in a CI Analyst role since last April, though I’ve been working in IT for more than thirty years. Operating in a trial-by-fire mode, I’ve learned a ton. But there’s one thing in particular I’ve observed over these past eight months—namely, that much of what analysts do might not actually be considered competitive intelligence. Let me explain.

First, let’s start with a definition:

Competitive intelligence (CI) is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors, and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers making strategic decisions for an organization.

Now, most of us would agree with this. But I think we would also agree that often it’s not what we as CI analysts actually do on a daily basis—at least not according to the definition. Why? Well, I can only give you my opinion. Take it for what it’s worth.

It’s because organizations—especially public ones—are laser-focused on either gaining market share or hanging onto the precious share they already have. And they need intelligence on the competition in order to plan their next move. Often, though, requests to the analysts don’t come across this way. “Give me more data!” seems to be the rally cry. But data isn’t enough.

Information Is Not Intelligence

Pretty basic, right? Most of you already know this. Yet much of what we as analysts are asked to provide is in fact information. Ben Gilad likes to refer to this phenomenon as “go fetch.” Personally, I think the disconnect has more to do with the process than what we are providing.

We know in our hearts that we are supposed to deliver insight, yet sometimes we feel like paralegals poring over case law to find just the right citation for an upcoming trial. Not to say that this information isn’t valuable. It is. But we need to accompany it with intelligence. Because of time constraints, though, it is awfully tempting to throw the data over the wall and hope that it’s useful. But we as analysts should always be thinking about squeezing insight out of it.

Never Enough Time

People who work for large organizations are often overworked as a result of downsizing or reorgs. I’ve seen it again and again—no matter which technology cycle we are in. And I don’t see this changing any time soon. I firmly believe that when senior management asks us for something, there is a damn good reason. But, as I said earlier, often these requests come to us as “go fetch.” And, being the dedicated employees we are, we do just that in order to meet a deadline.

Not much we can do about the requests. What we can do, though, is to always remember to add the secret sauce—insight. We also need to set expectations. Analysts, as a rule, are extremely conscientious. We pay attention to detail, and we like to do a thorough job. Guess what—we shouldn’t apologize for that! That’s precisely why we are in the role.

No one likes to tell the boss that she won’t have that report on her desk by end of day today. It’s going to be first thing Monday morning. Obviously, emergencies come up, and we may have to stay on it until we deliver. But generally we should set expectations correctly. The key is to remember the insight.

That’s not easy. To deliver good insight means taking time to digest what you’ve researched and letting it simmer. Things become much clearer after a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that luxury. Nevertheless, we need to educate senior management on how analysts operate, and how much time is required to complete a task. Sometimes, that means pushing back. Hey, it’s a journey.

The Competitive Intelligence Mindset

Here’s one more observation. We, as analysts, should maintain a “CI mindset.” This means that with everything we read, we should be mentally attempting to connect the dots, rather than absorbing a list of facts. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to practice outside of work. Movies are a great way to do this—seriously. A few months ago, I watched the excellent Australian film, Rover. I have to say that I didn’t guess the ending—and as a CI guy, I should have! All the information was there in front of me. Next time, I promise.

The other thing we need to do is to preach Competitive Intelligence (CI) to the rest of the organization. Just because a person’s title doesn’t include “analyst” doesn’t mean that they too cannot begin to derive insight from all of the reading and customer experience they are exposed to. They just need a few good tools. Recommending online articles and blog posts are a great start. (This blog is an excellent resource.) And if folks are open to it, pointing them to books on the subject is also useful. This approach has at least two benefits: (1) we are helping that individual to get better at their own job, and (2) we are turning them into a valuable resource that we can leverage when looking for internally sourced competitive intelligence.

Getting back to the definition, the point of what we do is to provide stuff that allows senior management to make strategic decisions. There’s so much we can do toward this end. It’s a pretty awesome responsibility, if you think about it.