Tag Archives: SCIP

Top 11 Reasons I’m Looking Forward to SCIP 2010

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals 2010 International Annual Conference & Exhibition will be held March 9 – 12 in Washington, DC.  Here are my top 11 reasons I’m looking forward to the conference…

11.  Welcoming my fellow CI professionals to my city.  Washington has much to offer from the well-known landmarks of the federal cIty to the neighborhood eateries known best by the locals.

10. Watching the back-channel discussion of the conference and programs with the #scip2010 hash tag on Twitter.

9. “The Death of the CI Professional: The Changing Paradigm for Competitive Intelligence Functions and Practitioners” with Ken Sawka of Outward Insights.  Our profession is most definitely at a crossroads, and I’m looking forward to hearing Ken’s analysis of our possible futures.

8. “Using Competitive Insights to Help Develop and Implement Corporate Strategy” with Dale Fehringer of Inkwell Productions and Melanie Wing of Whirlpool.  To remain relevant, CI professionals must raise our strategy game.

7. “Say It and Sit Down: The 20/20 Communication Technique” with Judy Leavitt of Rockwell Collins.  Intelligence that cannot be communicated is not intelligence, and we can always improve how we communicate.

6. “Numbers Gone Wild: Or, Precision In, Garbage Out” with Mark Chussil of Advanced Competitive Strategies.  Some CI customers will prefer the appearance of quantitative certainty, and it’s up to us to convey the reality and opportunity that comes from uncertainty and possibility.

5. “Right Brain Intelligence for a Left Brain World: New Approaches for Competitive Analysis” with Fred Wergeles.  How do we make intuitive insights relevant to detail-oriented, sensing types?

4. “Insights from the C-Suite – A Frank Discussion” with James Cornell, CMO of Prudential Retirement.  A rare, exciting opportunity to hear from a CI customer!!

3. The Top Takeaways Panel that will conclude the conference in which my fellow program committee members, the conference attendees and I will summarize our most important revelations from the conference sessions.

2. The synthesis of the best of the traditional SCIP conference and the Frost & Sullivan MindXChange to a program that is more than the sum of its parts.

1. The once-yearly opportunity to meet face-to-face with the enthusiastic intellect community of competitive intelligence professionals.  It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

2010 International Annual Conference & Exhibition (pdf)

Update on SCIP Board of Directors Situation

Since I had posted previously that I was considering running for the SCIP Board of Directors I should provide a short update that I’ve decided not to stand for election. As you’ve no doubt noticed my writing for the blog has slowed significantly as of late, and that’s a consequence of my workload and other activities. With everything that’s going on professionally I don’t believe I have the cycles needed to give a SCIP Board position the attention the role and the organization deserves.

On the plus side… I am podcasting again. Hopefully I will be able to keep the new episodes of the Competitive Intelligence Podcast coming. In addition to my recent interview with Aric Johnson I have another interview recorded with a CI thought leader waiting to be edited and published.

SCIP Board of Directors

The call for nominations has gone out for the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) Board of Directors. I’ve been asked if I would be willing to accept a nomination for the board.  Were I to decide to accept the nomination the election committee will approve a bevy of candidates on which the general membership will vote.  My inclination is to accept the nomination and make a run for the board.  For the readers of this blog familiar with SCIP, what do you believe are the most important issues to address in a campaign?  What do you think the boards’ top priorities should be?

Earlier this summer I wrote a letter to the current SCIP Board on the issues that I felt are the top priorities of the moment.  The main driver of this letter was to comment specifically on priorities for SCIP in the context of the pending investment by the Frost & Sullivan Institute.

To the Board of Directors and the professional staff of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals:

I am writing to you in response to board member Eric Glitman’s invitation to reach out to the SCIP board following the recent membership vote to support the SCIP – Frost & Sullivan Institute merger.  While I do not claim to speak for any others, I do know that in sentiment if not in detail I am of the same opinion of many other members of the society.  I welcome a frank and open discussion with the staff, board and membership at this time of challenge and opportunity.

Through the past five years I have been an active volunteer for SCIP, including as chapter chair, author, presenter, program committee member and conference vice-chair.  I hope that these activities have sufficiently established my “pro-SCIP” bona fides.  I have also spoken publicly in support of the SCIP – FSI merger in multiple venues public and private, voted in favor of the merger and am genuinely glad that the membership voted to support the merger.

Today I want to articulate the specific steps, strategies and options that I hope the board and staff will take at this time of opportunity.

I will be brief in this letter, and I am happy to discuss these ideas in detail with any member of the board or staff.  I welcome your response.

1.  In-depth analysis for all SCIP stakeholders and a clear articulation of the relevant value SCIP intends to deliver to each of these groups.  Practitioners, vendors and academics receive different value from membership and participation in the society, and SCIP’s strategic plan must recognize these distinct communities.

2.  Active engagement of the Competitive Intelligence and related communities through new media, including outreach to members via LinkedIn, Facebook, Ning and other social media.  All organizations that intend to engage communities today need to go to where those communities are.  The vast majority of the community WILL be understanding, forgive you if you make mistakes and admire thoughtful attempts to evolve.

3.  A coherent information technology (IT) infrastructure and governance strategy.  The potential from shared services and IT insight from FSI was the main reason I voted for this merger, and my expectations are very high here.  For starters SCIP’s board should develop an IT strategy in collaboration with the staff and qualified volunteer members (I humbly volunteer).  Some of my suggestions for consideration include preference for hosted solutions that avoid up-front capital investment, open data formats, open source and low-cost software, application programming interfaces (APIs) and solutions that offer clear migration frameworks and technology roadmaps.  The purpose of an IT strategy is to ensure the ability to deliver cost-effective flexibility for innovative revenue-generating offerings to members.

4.  Diversification of SCIP’s revenue model.  I am excited to hear about the possibility of a conference in Asia-Pacific.  This is a great first step to move the society away from reliance on the annual conference.  I strongly encourage SCIP’s board and members to lay out a diverse set of options to deliver member value and generate revenue for the society.  One option that leaps immediately to mind is certification, which is something I believe our profession sorely needs.

5.  Transparent governance, including publishing of minutes from Board of Directors meetings, open meetings that coincide with national conferences and regular participation by board members and senior SCIP staff in a variety of social networks and the SCIP blog.

I welcome any comments or questions in response to these suggestions.

Any member of the board or staff should feel free to e-mail or call me.

Sincerely,

August Jackson

Follow SCIP 2009 on Twitter

This week I’ll be at the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) 2009 Annual Conference in Chicago.  Myself and several others will be Twittering the conference, and anyone interested can follow along here.  The hashtag for the conference is #scip09.

Answers to “Using the Internet to Research Private Companies” Webinar

On 25 February I delivered a well-attended webinar for the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) on some of the methods I use to collect information about private (and other hard-to-research) companies on the Internet.  As promised, I wanted to follow up on the Questions that came in via the chat channel here on this blog.  Here that is:

How reliable is the information contained in premium secondary sources such as Hoovers?

Admittedly the financial and company information is not 100% reliable.  I generally consider the financial information to be indicative of the magnitude of the operation I am researching.  Information about executives tends to be up to a year behind in its updates.  The Hoovers database contains information on many thousands of companies, and those updates can take quite some time to make it through their research channels.  While I consider Hoovers and Business & Company Resource Center (BRC) a good place to start I do not consider them definitive or completely reliable.

Keep in mind that the first step of my research process is to abstract away from requests for specific pieces of information to plan your research strategy based on the business decision the product of your research and analysis is intended to support.  With this in mind you can relax somewhat on the tactical reliability of any individual piece of information, and likewise you’re not going to expect any single source to fully answer your question (my second commandment of secondary research) or meet all of your needs).

Aside from Hoovers, are there any other secondary sources you could suggest that can give insight into the financials of a private company?

I also use Gale’s Business & Company Resource Center because it is available for free at my public library.  Other premium sources are available.  For the purposes of this exercise I want to focus on the free or low-cost options.

How do you acquire Annual Reports for private companies?

You usually don’t.  Private companies are not obligated to issue a public report that is made available publicly.  Most good private companies will provide financial reports (audited or otherwise) to their investors.  Those reports will not be published anywhere on-line.  There is no regulation or law compelling or requiring a private company to make annual reports or other financial data available on-line.  Remembering my first commandment of Internet research, if there is not a self-serving or legally compelled reason for information to be published on-line it won’t be.

I am being very simplistic here, also.  There are circumstances why private companies have to file some financial information with agencies such as the SEC, and these differ widely from country-to-country.  Examples include private equity funding or bond sales for the SEC and institutions such as the UK’s Companies House.  A good background exercise to understanding the availability of these sorts of filings for private companies is to understand the various requirements for filings (financial or otherwise) that are imposed by national, state/provincial and local governments in the jurisdictions in which your private company operates.

Does the View Source function work in password protected sites?  Can “view source” be used on actual company sites?

“View Source” can be used on any and all web pages.  There are zero exceptions to this.  If you choose the “view source” option on the log-in page of a password-protected page you will see the code for that page.  This may reveal useful details about that page, but it is not likely to give you any way to access the materials hidden behind that user log-in.

For CI ethics purposes misrepresentation or cracking username/password log-ins for sites to which you do not have a legitimate purpose to access (including appropriate representation of yourself, your employer and your function at the time you request any log-in credentials) should not be considered ethical.  There have been incidents of competitors gaining access to password-protected Internet-based resources that have resulted in successful litigation against the offending parties.

Is there a way to identify upfront those companies that track access to their web sites?  How do you protect your identity when visiting websites to avoid recognition?  Do you use a product like anonymizer for web security?

Assume that all companies track access to their web site.  There is no way to know before, and most companies do track access.  I protect my identity first by accessing all competitors’ web sites from my home Internet connection so that I show up as just another broadband customer.  I also purge my browser’s cache of all cookie and history files before I conduct said research just to be safe.  I also use a virtual private network (read: NOT the same VPN I use to access my company’s network when I work from home).  If you want to protect your identity further you can install The Onion Router (TOR) to further anonymize your web access.  I do not use any commercial anonymizing software.

What about your search engine strategy?  Would you recommend a search vehicle like Dogpile.com  which uses various search engines vs. google alone or is there a downside to that effort?  Google vs. Yahoo: How do you  choose which to use?

I strongly recommend using more than one search engine for each of your search activities.  I use both Google and Yahoo! religiously and also use Microsoft’s search from time-to-time.  Meta-search engines like Dogpile, Klusty, Kartoo and many others are also useful.  Each engine has its own strengths in terms of what kinds of search are possible and how they index and rank sites.  It still surprises and pleases me how something I cannot find in Google is readily available in the top results for the same search in Yahoo! or Microsoft or vice-versa.

Is there a link to the Roger Phelps podcast about using LinkedIn for primary source targeting you can provide us?

Roger’s interview was episode 20 of the Competitive Intelligence Podcast and can be listened to or downloaded here: CIP 020 Roger Phelps on Primary CI and Using LinkedIn.

Do you know how often Google Maps refereshes the images?

Image refresh differs based on location.  Urban areas are updated more often (and in greater resolution) than rural areas.  For example, I can see updates of Washington, DC since Nationals Stadium was built two years ago.

If you know about a problem on Google Maps you can submit a request for a correction here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=98014.

As far as your lists of core resources when you begin a project?

As I mentioned in the webinar, my standard set of core resources are:

  • Premium sources (Hoovers, BRC)
  • Target company’s web site
  • News sources local to the target company
  • Social networks (LinkedIn, industry and trade social networks)
  • Leading general and industry-specific job posting sites
  • Google Maps

Any guidance on how much time to budget for a research project?

This completely depends on the scope of the project, ease of information discovery and your skill level.  I also find that countries in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand are easier and faster to research than companies in other countries.  The need to conduct primary research always adds a significant amount of time to a project.

As you become more familiar with this kind of research you’ll gain a strong sense of how long it is going to take to conduct the research.

Can you explain the searching for different types of files on a website?

This is a great use of the “filetype;” operator in Google to look for a specific file format such as Adobe PDF or Microsoft Powerpoint.  When you combine filetype with the “site:” operator you can look for all of the files of a specific format within a specific web domain or company web site.  So for example:

filetype:pdf site:raynor.com

returns all of the Adobe PDF files on the Raynor web site.

The values for the filetype operator correspond to the three-letter extensions that are standard in Windows.  So here are some useful examples:

PDF = Adobe PDF file

DOC = Micorosft Word

XLS = Microsoft Excel

PPT = Microsoft Powerpoint

TXT = Text

This method can be used for any file type (including the latest filetype extensions DOCX, PPTX and XLSX for the new Microsoft Office).

One research practice that I regularly apply is to look for all of the Word, Excel and Powerpoint files published on a target company’s web domain.

How to search on companies that are publically traded such as Siemens, but they are a conglomerate co and don’t really report at the business unit level?

In instances when I am researching a business unit or joint venture of a publicly-traded company I rely on the target unit’s web site (if they have their own) as well as information contained on the parent company or companies’ web sites and their annual reports (if one or more of the parent companies is publicly traded).  I search the parent company’s annual report for all mention of the business unit or joint venture.  Likewise I use the “site:” operator in Google and Yahoo! to find all mentions of the venture on the parent company’s web site.  For example

+”business unit or venture name” site:parentcompanydomain.com

What about searching in forums and groups to find unofficial information?

Customer and user forums are a great place to find information about competitors’ products and services.  In public forums, discussion boards and blogs (as well as micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter) customers and sometimes employees share information that may be useful or relevant to your collection process.  Combine industry-related keywords from your keywords lists with words like “discussion forum” or “blog” to find relevant information.

Do you have a standard approach to “packaging” your results and report?

This depends entirely on the nature of the request, the project and your customers’ preferences.  I like to provide a complete report including an executive summary of no more than 1 page that includes any conclusions or recommendations.  My philosophy on the executive summary is to write it as if it is going to be the only thing my customer reads.  In the more extensive deliverable I include the intelligence product as well as an appendix combining supporting data of information.

What about other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.  Are Google and Yahoo equally effective?

I’ve tried as best I can to create a search methodology that works independent of country or jurisdiction.  That being the case, though, the methodology is impacted by the variability in use of the Internet as a business tool.  This is why I focus on a method of developing keywords lists instead of providing lists of specific sources.  I find that Google and Yahoo! function equally well globally, at least from a technical perspective.

How do you search for the companies which are situated in ‘not-well-documented-regions’ such as Russia, Middle East, India, etc.?

I still use Hoovers and BRC as my first step for exploring companies of all sizes in various countries.  Two sources that I use for other countries are kompass.com and alibaba.com.  These are both multi-national business directories comprised mostly of company self-reported data.

Moving CI from Information-Driven Inquiry to Decision-Support Consultancy

This weekend I’ve been working feverishly to recreate my presentation on “Using the Internet to Research Private Companies” for my upcoming SCIP webinar.  I’ve been applying Andrew Abela’s Extreme Presentation method that results in a more coherent “story” and also results in much more attractive and meaningful graphic slides.  I used this approach for my presentation at the Frost & Sullivan Competitive Intelligence MindXChange in January and was very happy with the results.  One of my goals for this presentation is that I want to encourage researchers to move from thinking about requests for specific information and focusing more on the motivating decision that they are trying to inform.  

I have been looking at this concept recently based on some observations I’ve been pulling together about some cognitive biases that occur when competitive intelligence tasking is focused strictly on finding specific information about the market or a competitor versus inquiries and support based on decision support.  While I’m not going to go into this topic in detail in the webinar, I did take some time to capture some quick thoughts on the cognitive biases that I have observed behind information-driven inquiry from CI customers:

  • Over-estimate the level of specificity required
  • Over-estimate the level of precision required/possible
  • Over-value quantitative information
  • Over-estimate the need for “up-to-the-minute” facts over historical trends
  • Value the tactical and devalue strategic
  • Under-estmate ethical considerations, up to and including advocating for industrial espionage under-estimate cost
  • Under-estimate timeframe required for information collection
  • Emphasize adherence to requirements over results
  • Emphasize information over analysis, reject external opinion
  • Over-reliance on individual pieces of data or information, often from unqualified or unverified sources
  • Significant confirmation bias– seek specific information to prove intuitive conclusions or justify decisions already made
  • Over-emphasize the need to move quickly over confirmation of accuracy of information or quality of analysis

Admittedly there is a lot of redundancy and overlap in that list.  As I refine the concept for a new project and really get down to specific cases and examples I am sure the list will be both narrowed and focused.  In a nutshell I relate these cognitive biases back to the tyranny of the urgent over the important.  

Good CI managers and practitioners are going to be challenged always to push back against the information-driven approach to client inquiry.  The sometimes subjective nature of “good” collection and “quality” analysis actually gives me a degree of sympathy for the client who expresses his or her requests for support in terms of access to information.  It is much easier to answer the question “Did I get what I requested?” if I express my request in terms of tangible information.  The decisions that need to be made are often very sensitive in nature, and the desire to compartmentalize those considerations is certainly justifiable.  All of these very understandable preferences lead us to a very sub-optimal destination where practitioner time and effort is wasted to deliver something that doesn’t really address the client’s need.

New CI practices and employees effectively have to earn the permission to be decision support consultants by going above and beyond traditional information-driven requests.  They must also somehow do this without falling into the trap of becoming so good at meeting information-driven expectations that they become typecast as purveyors of information as opposed to the true decision support role that CI really is intended to be.  Key to doing this is to anticipate the decision requirement that drives the information request and do “well enough” on the information but go above and beyond in providing it in a firm form that also provides some quick-win analysis.

There’s a lot more here, and probably more than I can go into in one blog entry.  I’m particularly interested in seeing if any of my fellow CI practitioners and vendors have any thoughts, experiences or cases along these lines of moving a client from information-driven requests to an inquiry framework based on decision support.

Upcoming Competitive Intelligence Article: Web 2.0 Changes Everything

I have been ignoring the blog the past few weeks largely to focus on a couple of efforts I am working on for SCIP.  In the interim I hope that the active sharing of news items I find on Google Reader and Twitter that run along the sidebar of this blog.  I am a religious user of both platforms and they really do serve a niche to give me a means to share items of interest between blog posts or when I don’t have enough time, inclination or insight to justify a full blog entry.

One of the projects that I’ve been working on is an article on Web 2.0 and CI that I needed to get out the door and kept me up until 2 AM Thursday night. The article is probably going to be in the March/April issue of Competitive Intelligence magazine.  Some of the main points that I try to convey in this article are the basics of Web 2.0 and the consequences of network effects, transparency and open platforms on established business models.

I also try to make the point in this article that Web 2.0 platforms increase the need and importance of active, real-time reputation monitoring.  This is a difficult tight-rope to walk, because one of the dynamics I am trying to convey related to corporate policies related to employee use of Web 2.0 platforms (both inside and outside the enterprise) is that heavy-handed strategies won’t work.  My challenge is creating an appropriate sense of urgency around active reputation monitoring and management with the knee-jerk reflex to “lock it down” that one observes in command-and-control oriented corporate structures.  

The downside to the command and control approach is that it comes with a hard-to-measure cost in employee efficiency, satisfaction and retention.  Ham-handed anti-web 2.0 policies are signals to the market (and employment is still a market even if it’s more of a buyer’s market these days) of the value in which the corporation holds individual employees.  The best and the brightest want to go where they are going to be recognized as individuals, allowed to innovate, allowed to pursue individual initiative and rewarded for their efforts.  Heavy-fisted policies about participation and social networks tell these stellar employees that this will not happen here.  It also sends a message to market watchers that a corporate structure lacks the ability to take advantage of bottom-up innovation.  When the recovery does happen I would like to think investors will see these qualities as indicators of staying power and the ability of a firm to generate growth and higher returns on investments.