Few professions are left unchanged by technology. From healthcare to retail to professional sports, professionals of every stripe make use of technology to do what they do better through the application of technology’s most prolific output: data. So it would make sense that an entire industry based on the analysis of data and information also is undergoing a revision.
Although it’s one of those industries few people think about, the competitive intelligence (CI) field has been gaining
ground steadily since it was officially recognized as a discipline soon after World War II. The industry really did not get its official CI designation until the early 1980s, when its trade association, The Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), was established.
There are a few variations on the CI theme, customer intelligence and market intelligence being the most widely recognized outside of the profession. Because of the explosion of data sources, cheap processing power, and many analytics vendors today, “integrated intelligence” is taking over as the umbrella term under which all data collection, analysis, and interpretation and dissemination activities take place.
“CI has expanded far beyond human intelligence and primary data collection at this point,” said SCIP Executive Director Nannette Bulger. “CI professionals are handling market sizing, segmentation, strategic analysis to support mergers and acquisitions, and so on.”
As one would expect based on its name, CI is all about providing businesses with insights so they can best the competition. But with the rise of the Internet and the widespread dissemination of information and data, what was once an ivory tower type of pursuit involving high
ly trained specialists is now, in many respects, the job of everyone in an organization. Data are everywhere. The ability to make sense of it all is still a rare skill, but its collection and organization are no longer the primary job of CI professionals.
And this is challenging many in the business to take fresh look at what they do, said Bulger. Where once there were just a handful of players claiming CI leadership, now the industry is under siege by a growing host of data-focused startups as well as business intelligence software vendors, marketing automation players, and anyone else who analyzes data to understand business better.
Bulger trots out example after example of companies that have figured out new business-focused uses for analytics tools developed for other purposes.
“Before, it was just a lot of data dissemination,” she said. “Now, you have people coming out of MIT’s Media Lab working with cosmetics vendors, for example. There’s a tidal wave coming that the established vendors are trying to ignore.”
The crest of that wave is companies coming into the CI market that may not be seen as threats by current vendors. There is a supply chain mapping company, for example, that is now doing analytics on their data to help companies avoid disruptions to their operations if a source of raw materials suddenly goes away. Providing a company with the knowledge it needs to switch suppliers quickly and continue operations is a serious competitive advantage in times of scarcity.
While not CI directly but a great example of unlooked-for-uses of technology, the Formula One racing team McLaren is helping doctors monitor infants in intensive care units, said Bulger. Auto racing teams use real-time monitoring from sensors all over their racecars. As it turns out, this same technology is ideal for monitoring people’s vital signs.
It is this type of disruption that has the profession in a state of flux, making even deciding who is an “intelligence” vendor and who is not problematic. Tech industry research house IDC has gone so far as to rebrand the entire industry, calling any business that provides other businesses with intelligence “value-added content” (VAC) providers:
“Big Data and analytics (BDA) solutions are fueling a demand for more and wider varieties of data every day,” IDC wrote in a 2014 opinion brief about HGdata, a big data analytics company. “A raft of new companies that provide a range of data types – from wind speed data to data about what people are watching, reading, or listening to – are emerging to coexist with and sometimes replace more traditional data vendors in the information industry. What’s more is that organizations in many industries are curating and adding value to that content, in some cases transforming it completely and finding new ways of deriving economic value from the data. Value-added content (VAC) is an emerging market. Social media, blog posts, Web transactions, industrial data, and many other types of data are being aggregated, curated, enhanced, and sold to organizations hungry to understand their customers and products as well as the markets in which they exist.”
At the end of the day, the big data revolution is not about data. It’s about doing what we do better. Whether improving a process, finding a cure for a rare disease, taking over market share from a competitor, or just understanding how things really work, all of these things can be done better through the analysis of data – the more data, the better. Like the world when viewed through the lens of an ultra-slow motion camera or at the tip of an electron microscope, big data gives people the ability to see things they otherwise would not be able to see.
“I believe this is a huge growth area,” said Heather Cole, president of business intelligence solutions company Lodestar Solutions. “Companies are beginning to feel the effects of ‘digital disruption.’ They must be innovative to thrive. Customer intelligence is a valuable part of innovation. Companies that identify why their clients buy from them find new clients to serve or a new product to serve their existing clients, and will find it is much easier to hold margins and market share even in a highly competitive market.”