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Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence

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Published by Gary Henson
Thanks to the Web, you can learn more about the competition faster than ever.Business moves fast. Product cycles are measured in months, not years. That's why competitive intelligence is so important.
Thanks to the Web, you can learn more about the competition faster than ever.Business moves fast. Product cycles are measured in months, not years. That's why competitive intelligence is so important.

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Published by: Gary Henson on Jan 22, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Competitive Intelligence - GetSmart!
Thanks to the Web, you can learn moreabout the competition faster than ever.Fast Company's panel of experts provides a six-point program for keeping an eye on your rivals. Now,where's Agent 99?Business moves fast. Product cyclesare measured in months, not years.Partners become rivals quicker thanyou can say "breach of contract." Sohow can you possibly hope to keep upwith your competitors if you can't keepan eye on them?That's why competitive intelligence is so important. Forget James Bond. And forget theoccasional racy headlines about industrial espionage. We're talking about new approachesto good old-fashioned business dish: a heads-up on a new product, information on arival's cost structure, a read on an ally's changing strategy.This kind of information gets exchanged all the time, of course. Engineers swap gossip attrade shows; rival salespeople compare notes at a restaurant. Thanks to the Internet,though, you can acquire more information faster than ever. The Net offers a remarkablywide variety of sources: content-rich Web sites, fast-as-lightning news services, online job postings, brutally honest discussion groups.We've convened a panel of experts to teach you the new rules of competitive intelligence.Two top consultants (Leonard Fuld and Tracey Scott) and two in-the-trenches researchers(Marc Friedman and Edee Edwards) discuss their secrets for tracking companies andtrends. (Their bios appear on page 270.) We also provide do-it-yourself tools, includingthe most reliable Net-based sources. So take our advice on business intelligence - and getsmart.
The Net Changes Everything
Leonard Fuld:
The Internet has dramatically accelerated the speed with which anyonecan track down useful material, or find other people who might have useful information.Before the Net, locating someone who used to work at a company - always a good sourceof information - was a huge chore. Today people post their resumes on the Web; they participate in discussion groups and say where they work. It's a no-brainer.Recently we were asked to determine the size, strength, and technical capabilities of a privately held company. It was hard to get detailed information. Then one of our analysts
used Deja News http://www.dejanews.com , a search engine that tracks online discussiongroups. The company we were researching had posted 14 job openings to one Usenetnewsgroup. That posting was like a road map to its development strategy. You couldn'tfind that sort of thing five years ago.
Marc Friedman:
The Net isn't my only source of information, but it's a major one. It'swhere I start. One site I like to visit is CorpTech http://www.corptech.com , which provides information on 45,000 high-tech companies and more than 170,000 executives.Sometimes I'm really amazed at what searching the Net can turn up. One of our productlines consists of antennae for air-traffic-control systems. I got a call from our people inCanada, who needed a country-by-country breakdown of upgrade plans for variousairports. I knew nothing about air-traffic control at the time. So I got on the Net. I found asite for the International Civil Aviation Organization, which had lots of great data. I alsofound several research companies that had done reports.
Edee Edwards:
The Net can also waste time. I got a call from someone - I swear this istrue - who wanted to know the time in Australia. He'd been searching the Net and couldn'tfind it. Of course, all he had to do was open a phone book or an almanac and look at atime-zone map! That sort of thing happens a lot more often than you might think.
Put People First
Tracey Scott:
I distinguish between secondary information - stuff that you read on theWeb or in reports - and human-source information: stuff that real people tell you. Human-source information is more interesting and more accurate than secondary information.That's why I spend a lot of my time tracking people. I always look for "star talent" andthink about what the comings and goings of those people mean. I also love conference proceedings. Most companies send their best people to speak at conferences. It's a greatway to track talent and to track down people who might have useful information andinsights.
The "people factor" is so important. You can't reduce competitive intelligence to aspreadsheet. One exercise we like to do is to profile the top managers in a company or  business unit. What's their background? Their style? Are they marketers? Are they cost-cutters? The more articles you collect, the more bios you download, the better you get atcreating these profiles. All this material is on the Web.One client hired us to help figure out whether a competitor was going to start competingmore aggressively on cost. Our analysts tracked down all kinds of articles, including a profile in a local newspaper of the competitor's CEO. The profile said, very matter-of-factly, that this guy took a bus to a nearby town to visit one of the company's plants.Those few words were a small but important sign to me that this company was going to be incredibly cost-conscious.
One last point: Help-wanted ads are a very underrated source of business intelligence.They offer great clues about where a company is heading in its pursuit of markets andtechnologies. CareerPath.com http://www.careerpath.com and the Monster Boardhttp://www.monsterboard.com are two sites that our analysts use all the time. Companiesare between a rock and a hard place here. Most of them desperately need talented people,so they have to advertise their openings aggressively. But the more jobs they post, themore they expose themselves to people like us, who know how to analyze the postings. If you examine the kinds of backgrounds that a company looks for in its systems people,you can get a good sense of its technical infrastructure.
Search and Ye Shall Find
You can't talk about competitive intelligence on the Web without talkingabout search engines. I've had the most success with Excite http://www.excite.com ,which lets you start with a broad search and then narrow it. Say a search unearths a Website that's really valuable. You click on a button ("More Like This"), and Exciteimmediately searches for items related to that site. It's a nice feature.
Search engines are a mystery. A few months ago, a colleague of mine did atraining class on using the Internet. She had everyone in the class plug the same queryinto AltaVista http://www.altavista.digital.com - and every single one of them got adifferent result. The same colleague did a search that morning and got a bunch of hits.She did the same search in the afternoon and came up empty. I guess the moral of thestory is, don't take "no" for an answer.
I use AltaVista. It gets me to the hard-and-fast business stuff that I expect to find. Ialso use MetaCrawler http://www.metacrawler.com , one of the leading "meta" searchengines. It gets me to stuff that I don't expect to find: obscure newsletters, reports thataren't officially sanctioned by companies or research firms - material that AltaVista oftendoesn't produce.
There's No Place Like Home (Pages)
It's so obvious that I'm reluctant to say it: If you want to find out about your competitors, spend time with their home pages. Home pages are such an obvious resourcethat people often don't take them seriously. I've been spending time with the home pagefor Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer-products company http://www.unilever.com . It'sa great place to gather intelligence on that company. It includes all kinds of data aboutR&D operations: where they are, what they specialize in. You can take that informationand go to the IBM Patent Server http://www.patents.ibm.com , which archives 2 million patent citations. You'll make some interesting connections and see how Unilever is usingits scientific resources. That's just one example.Some companies go into real depth about their structure and leadership - complete withorg charts of different departments and bios of executives. Unilever's site is like a AAATrip-tik: It allows outsiders to navigate through the organization. When a company lets

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