Thought Leadership

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Franck Mathot
Market Intelligence is legal, espionage not

Enhancing a company forward-looking capabilities by integrating a Corporate Intelligence / Market Intelligence (CI/MI) Systematic Approach!

The CI/MI Cycle as the backbone to generate strategic insights for any organization.

By Franck Mathot, Managing Director of AlterVista, a management consultancy focusing on market intelligence, market insight and foresight for business/future development.

Why integrate a CI/MI Systematic Approach in an organization?

It is a systematic approach to collecting, processing and using relevant information to detect threats and opportunities for a business (or a nation) to facilitate the decision-making process and make appropriate decisions. This systematic approach is accompanied by measures to protect the information assets of the company, as well as useful actions in influence or lobbying.

Derived from Michael Porter's 1980s research on Competitive Advantages of Companies (and/or Nations) and its well-known analytical tools “Porter 5-force analysis” and “Porter 4-corner analysis” is unequally spread in Europe, mainly in Anglo-Saxon countries and commonly used among multinational companies.

More and more businesses are facing an environment where the pace of change is accelerating. Due to the globalization of markets, technological, political, environmental and competitive pressures are impacting forcefully and shaping companies (and nations). In view of the increasing complexity of the economic context, the survival of companies is driven by their ability to anticipate the transformations of their environment.

There are several key issues to acquire this true corporate culture allowing a better understanding of its environment to make relevant decisions. Most companies, large or small, have used this approach at one point without necessarily giving it a proper name. Fewer are those who do it systematically though!

The implementation of the so-called CI/MI Cycle is a good starting point.  Each one of the 6 phases (Planning – Collecting – Processing – Analyzing – Reporting – Control) depends on the previous one. At the end of the cycle, the needs analysis resumes, including an evaluation of the whole process in a perspective of continuous improvement.

The intelligence activity should not be confused with industrial espionage because it is information that is legally and ethically collected by a company in its so-called watch activities.

The planning phase is essential as there is no intelligence without proper “KITs/KIQs “

"The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he is the one who asks the right questions"- Claude Levi-Strauss

Key Intelligence Topics (KITs) are aspects of your environment that are greater relevance to your organization for meeting its business objectives. You already have some information about your KITs, but you need to address the gaps. Key Intelligence Questions (KIQs) are research questions that will help you fill up the gaps to rebuild the puzzle (answering questions to bring solutions to the table).

All employees have an important role to play to monitor their environment at all times and by sharing the useful information they have gathered. Every employee is potentially a link of the information chain and should be encouraged to become an observer, a gate keeper, a critical thinker.

The information collected must then be classified, prioritized and analyzed, in other words, transformed into insights (knowledge, intelligence, wisdom) useful to the company. This phase is essential because it allows the value of the information retrieved to make a strategic decision based on this value-added information. The dissemination of information within the company is the phase that provides answers to the needs of decision-makers. This reporting phase is the purpose of the entire process and usually implies not only the deliverable but also an important amount of convincing (influencing the decision-making process).

A change in the company's culture takes time, hence the importance of promoting quick wins at the onset, if only to convince the merits of the approach. Evolving from a fire fighter department to a top-notch CI/MI proactive center will only be possible if upper-management is fully committed to this change. Not only clear support from upper management is essential but also good integration of employees in the project to ensure that they understand the issues.

Since it is not possible to acquire exhaustive information about everything, it is a question of setting priorities and weighting the various needs identified by the company.  The aim is to be able to provide upper management and more specifically the decision makers with insights at the right time.