How to Create a Know-it-all Company

In the current cost-focused climate, plenty of organizations are calling on competitive intelligence to help reach educated strategic decisions.

Put simply, the effort of sharing knowledge has to be less than the value of participating. People have to see tremendous immediate benefit. They have to see, smell, touch and taste how it's going to improve their work lives.


  • Why convincing workers to share knowledge is especially important in a tough economy
  • How some companies have convinced employees to share their knowledge
  • Why it's critical to make participation as easy as possible

Alert to possible pitfalls, when Astrazeneca Australia director of corporate planning Justin Ooi was charged with implementing the first significant competitive intelligence (CI) operation outside of the company's US and UK offices, he vowed to proceed with caution.

It proved a wise decision. An initial low-cost pilot for 30 staff taught the company a few valuable lessons: Do not use systems as your starting point. Do make sure your CI efforts are integrated into the core processes of your business. And above all, do make sure CI becomes a part of the organizational culture.

There is little use implementing a knowledge management system, a huge database or some kind of online form to collect data, Ooi says, without building the processes around it that link that to someone's normal job responsibility. Unless you can link your CI efforts to process, no one will enter information into the system, either because they cannot see what they will get out of it, or because even though they do see the value, entering information in the system falls outside of their normal work routine so it is all too easy to lose any motivation to do so.

"CI won't get done unless it [gets integrated into core processes in the business], because if it's another responsibility for someone in marketing or someone in sales, and they can't see how it's going to aid their day-to-day roles, or if they think it's going to add to their workload, it will never be a deliverable that we can see happening," he says. In the current cost-focused climate, plenty of organizations are calling on competitive intelligence to help reach educated strategic decisions. Competitive intelligence allows companies to anticipate market developments instead of reacting to them, and that can make the difference between staying afloat and going under. On the other hand, even major organizations that have long relied on their competitive intelligence strengths have been cutting back on the number of employees devoted to competitive intelligence activities. Many companies are now expecting all of their employees to collect and understand competitive intelligence and know how to apply it to make strategic decisions.

As those in sales, marketing and strategic planning are increasingly expected to bear the burden of the organizational CI activities, organizations are learning that integrating competitive intelligence with business processes and inculcating an intelligence culture into the organization are becoming increasingly critical.

"One of the things you need to do as a CI person working in a company is to build up a network of people who are conscious of the need to give a heads-up [about competitive threats]," NRMA Motoring and Services strategy consultant Chris Elenor says. "And some people really get off on it. I mean there are a couple of patrols in the NRMA that are always sending me things - little e-mails saying 'I saw such and such doing such and such in this place', or 'I've recently been to England and guess what X is up to?' One of the things you learn is to make sure you value their inputs," Elenor says. "Most of the best CI - unless I'm chasing a particular issue or a particular question - doesn't come from me. It comes from other people, in the normal course of their business, who rub up against our competitors."

Linking CI with Business Processes

As Astrazeneca - a major pharmaceutical company - went through its small CI pilot it held focus groups with major potential users in sales and marketing only to be told the same thing again and again: "Yes, CI is really important to our roles, but at the end of the day, if it imposes an additional burden on us, it is not going to get done." The answer was to build CI into business processes, Ooi says.

"If they've got a process of information to develop a new campaign for a product, we'll build competitive intelligence into that campaign, rather than implementing a CI process," Ooi says. "So the tack we took is to come up with a process and incorporate CI into that process."

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