By Dr. Ben Gilad, ACI Faculty

I am typically a negative person. Well, not in my mind– I of course think I am a realist. But I hardly find reasons to celebrate in my field of competitive intelligence, until recently.

Following the publication of my Pharma Executive’s post, I received three calls from Pharma companies asking for my help in reviewing their CI processes. I accepted one. The reason I accepted that one request was the CI team had a chance of making a difference.

Pharma is an extreme example of an industry where competitive intelligence hasn’t done well, so working with a team that is prospering is a reason to celebrate. But more important, in other industries, the state of competitive intelligence is showing promising signs. From a low in the 2000s whereby CI has been pushed down in the corporate hierarchy, hidden away somewhere in marketing and made to chase competitors’ minutia, the function (and teams) are changing for the better.

Here are a few hot trends:

1.      More CI is integrated into strategy

The CI+Strategy event in San Francisco showcased more CI professionals in strategy functions than any time in the past 2 decades. Sure, the sample was skewed as the professionals integrated into strategy were seasoned and highly trained (after all, the majority were our CIP™s, and yes, I know I sound like a proud father), but they are going to mentor the next generation, send them to be certified, and put them on strategic projects’ work rather than tactical information vacuuming. The push to have CI integrated into strategy comes from the top and it is based solely on the skills of the CI team. This is especially clear in tech-dependent industries.

2.      Most significant: The bifurcation of the field is complete!

Back in the 90s, a few of us fought a bitter battle for the “soul” of the profession. The battle was between those who believed CI is about information and those of us who believed it’s about intelligence, i.e., highly skilled perspective on strategic issues. We lost. The mainstream CI conferences and “boot camps” and workshops here and in Europe have been focusing on search for data – small, medium, large and BIG- and attracting mostly information specialists and vendors trying to sell them information services. Throughout that, however, the CIP™ certification kept growing in popularity (for example, we are adding a third program in the US to meet demand), and attracting a different crowd of strategic minded managers in various functions. These simultaneous trends suggest information specialists and intelligence analysts are parting ways.

3.      Different job requirements are evident in hiring

Managers going for the analyst-type roles are viewing CI as a skill and therefore a career stepping-stone to more senior management positions while the information specialists see their role as a technical job of getting and distributing data in the most effective way. While there is a markedly different skill set for information specialist and competition analyst, one can acquire the skills via training. The main difference is in temperament, and that is what makes it easier to draw the distinction for companies. One can see the difference manifested in job descriptions and recruiters’ interviews that use track record and “role vision” as proxies.

4.      Big Data and Big Analytics hype is over

In line with the bifurcation of information specialists and competition analysts, the hype (and fear) about Big Data (and more recently A/I) have been shown to be, well… hot air. The crux of the matter is that Big Data are just more data, and Analytics is just.. good old statistical techniques, and A/I is faster computing power for both. Competition analysts are not going to become data scientists (unless they like to acquire a Ph.D in statistics). They will definitely include the results of Big Data searches by the data analytics center into their analysis, but they are no longer worried about being replaced by data scientists.

5.      A/I displacement is real but for whom?

Someone told me lately of a vendor who is offering courses on A/I to CI people. This is similar to offering driving lessons on a mechanical shovel to architects. Competition analysts will not become A/I programmers, nor will they be replaced by machine learning. The bifurcation works here as well: information search and low level “research” jobs will probably be affected by A/I to some degree and there is little these specialists can do except upgrading their skill set via in-depth training and certification. Offshore low cost, labor-intensive research operations are most vulnerable to A/I. Actually, some automation of collection is already a fact for many Fortune companies, and there are dozens of vendors offering this type of services and prices keep falling. The analyst, on the other hand, will not be replaced. Au contraire. A recent presentation I’ve heard at a company which is a global leader in using A/I demonstrated that human perspective on the patterns discovered by A/I and Analytics seems to have become even more important, as busy executives demand less data and more insight.

6.      Analysis wins big time

I recently ran a war game for a healthcare company in which a question was posed: what is our core capability? I can’t divulge the discussion, but this simple question can change the nature of companies, bringing strategic advantage into clear focus. Similarly, people already in, or entering the CI field must ask themselves: what is our core capability? If they answer: finding information, this is a legitimate answer and it charts a narrow technical job but not a managerial career. On the other hand, competitive experts are even more in demand today than yesterday. The balance in the Academy’s employment-support services has shifted from supply to demand we can’t meet (though in all fairness, not in all industries!).

7.      Adaptive markets drive CI

One reason analysis wins big is that analysis (not analytics!) brings a perspective which is not predictable, nor totally driven in a deterministic way by data alone. A new book on Adaptive Markets suggests intuitive shortcuts and emotions play a significant role in the ability to judge risks correctly, and in choosing the most advantageous strategy. Moreover, studies of brain damaged people showed that when “the ability to experience emotions is removed, human behavior becomes less rational.” The human perceptive of seasoned competition analysts looking at all the data plus bringing their own strategic mindset and broad-based experience to bear on them is superior to the algorithm-based predictions by computers. This is especially true in tumult times where companies are driven to adapt to changing markets rules.

8.      Strategic Early Warning tasks become more popular

In booking recent in-house training programs, we have noticed a change in demand towards early warning processes which include building scenarios and war gaming different strategic responses to them. This shift is again driven from the top, which for me is a very encouraging sign. The competition analysts tell us, “our execs want us to be able to drive scenario work, use war gaming techniques to test strategic options for them and direct strategic dialogues”. And they want it on the cheap and fast which is also encouraging as it may signal a shift from the large consultants and million-dollar projects to internal capability. When one Fortune 500 company asks us to train a team for that, it is wonderful. When two ask in one week, you know something is afoot. Maybe it’s Trump and the rising political/regulatory uncertainty, or just the technological trends creating huge uncertainty, but the shift away from “collect every little detail on competitors” to strategic early warning is the best validation of our unorthodox teaching in two decades.

One of my favorite CI managers wrote to me yesterday saying the Strategy Director in her company asked her to put it in her team’s scope to also include “and what should our company do!”

It’s the first time in 18 years I am trending optimistic…share this with your networks, give them hope!