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.

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She says with no separate funding for a CI program, her biggest initial task was to work out just what the organization could do with what it already had. That meant making better use of ongoing tracking, market shares, brand awareness, customer perceptions, customer satisfaction, employee feedback, service evaluation, differentiation matrices, competitive profiles and so much more. But she says equally important was to make sure people in the organization were kept aware of the volume of CI available to them. "For instance, we put out a newsletter to the staff highlighting information, because of course it doesn't matter what you put on the intranet - unless people know it's there, it's pretty useless," Price says.

But she says regardless of how many tools an organization has, unless CI is a part of the culture, with the full support of senior management, the program will never be effective. "You've got to get the support of your management, and the senior management. Unless they're behind you, then it won't happen. The problem is, it's something that they need, but it is probably not front of mind for them, so there does need to be a sell job," she says.

Getting the support of senior management also helps align the CI effort with the business, Ooi points out. When Astrazeneca was beginning its CI efforts Ooi's team went to business leaders and asked: "If you had one question that you wanted to answer that changed the way you managed things, what would it be?" That meant working their way up from the strategic plan, by identifying the key issues and assumptions and finding out how those could be validated through CI. The drawback, Ooi says, is that aligning to quite high strategic goals helps managers to make decisions without necessarily helping people in the field.

Aligning CI with the business means being prepared to use the knowledge derived from CI to inform changes to the overall organizational strategy, says Elenor. One of the big issues NRMA Motoring and Services has been "banging its heads around" is the notion of convergence, he says. When Woolworths began selling petrol, the motoring organization began pondering other potential threats from convergence, such as the extent to which organizations in the insurance industry might in future want to offer roadside assistance. "And lo and behold, what happens is that you've now got some credit card companies offering a form of roadside assistance, as value add with their credit cards," he says.

NRMA Motoring and Services' strategic analysis also accurately predicted 18 months ago that customers might in future be able to buy roadside insurance along with their mobile phone - a situation that has now come to pass. Indeed the organization recognized a range of competitive threats from industries that might offer roadside assistance as a value add - insurance, telecommunications, utilities, retail and finance. And this recognition is largely because the organization's people are fully on board.

"Through having a network of people who have got their eyes open and focused on the right sorts of things, suddenly I get an advert or a reference in the papers saying this particular telecommunications company is about to get into roadside assistance. We then go and find out about that company, see where it fits into their strategy, how important it is to them, whether it is just a value add or whether it is a move by a number of the telecommunications companies into those sorts of services, what's going to drive the value of that . . ." Elenor says one of the roles of CI people is to drive that consciousness about your CI threat through the whole organization.

But if the ultimate goal of CI from a futurist's point of view is to predict threats before they emerge, on a day-to-day basis it acts more as a decision support tool, used to help detect competitive threats of the nature of the competitive environment. "The way that we drive the competitive intelligence is very much: Well, you ask the question and we're going to try to find you the answer," he says. "And it is situated in the larger sort of strategic planning format: Where are we going forward? What's happening in our key products and markets? Who are the competitors in those products and markets?

"The central thing is that we need to work out our own market strategies, rather than in response to our competitors, but at the same time the point is to know what our competitors are up to."

Telecom New Zealand is achieving enhanced CI by integrating the CI function at strategic, operational and tactical levels. The approach is already paying dividends: the CI unit has been identified as a Centre of Excellence within the organization for meeting the challenges of the ever-shifting New Zealand telecommunications market.

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