Ethics + Six Sigma Competitive Intelligence
= Market Leader

by Todd Miller

The activity of collecting, analyzing and utilizing business-related information to help make informed decisions is competitive intelligence (CI). CI is not corporate espionage, and it's more than just keeping tabs on your competitors. Done properly, CI enables companies to make critical business decisions based on facts, improves their competitive position, increases their understanding of risks and vulnerabilities, reduces loss of information and helps to achieve tangible financial results. To be done properly, CI must be legal, ethical and rely on a process for measuring quality that strives for near perfection - Six Sigma.

"Businesses realize that competitive intelligence should be the fabric of how a company thinks strategically and tactically," said Tim Stone, CEO of Boise Idaho based competitive intelligence company Provizio. "However due to the lack of consistent, high quality information, and the unethical and often illegal practices some companies use to obtain information, CI is often viewed as a necessary evil. We're trying to change that."

The primary obstacle to competitive intelligence being a legitimate business practice centers on ethics. Punishment is assigned to those who break the law, but what happens to those that tweak the rules just a bit? They may be looked at as unfair or inappropriate. But, what if they take that information and go on to make a brilliant business decision that makes their company millions. In most cases, their behavior is simply ignored or forgotten. "That is what can be so frustrating in this field," says Stone. "We are experts on legal and ethical policy at Provizio, and we are using those standards in conjunction with a highly disciplined process called Six Sigma to redefine the rules and image of CI."

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a rigorous, data-driven business methodology directed at exceeding customer expectations while improving financial performance. The process uses data and precise statistical analysis to identify "defects" in a product or process. The central idea behind Six Sigma is that using a universal measurement scale to define and estimate the opportunity for error and calculate defects in the same way every time, improvement can be easily measured.

Apply Six Sigma to CI

The principles of Six Sigma and its methodology to drive continuous improvement provide a very useful framework for developing high quality competitive intelligence processes. The well-accepted Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) methodology is ideal for improving the performance of an existing CI process.

Begin the improvement process by defining your company's existing methods for gathering and analyzing competitive and market information, creating a high-level map of the process to be improved. This will set the scope of the project. Next gather key business requirements and identify priority internal and external clients for company CI activities through interviews with senior executives, brainstorming sessions and engagement with outside companies. Use this information to evaluate and compare alternative CI processes to determine which methods are most likely to be successful.

Measurements are essential to determining the true value-add of CI processes, and a number of questions need to be answered before the program's effectiveness can be accurately gauged. Do CI processes provide unique insights (beyond what the executive leadership team already knows) on the competition and market? Do CI processes provide sufficiently specific data to support fact-based decisions? Is the intelligence delivered on a timely basis, comprehensible, and useable to key decision makers?

Once these are answered, there are a number of specific measures important in baselining current CI processes - providing the framework for continuous improvement for Six Sigma CI processes. The majority of these measures are customer-driven, and they focus on: timeliness, comprehensiveness, specificity, accuracy, relevance, impact and ROI.

Additional metrics provide a framework for comparing the "maturity" level and robustness of CI programs. These provide parameters for measuring continued improvement and include: depth of primary intelligence, diversity and quality of CI sources, quality of customer interaction and adherence to legal and ethical guidelines.

Examine the full competitive intelligence cycle (customer requirements through collection, analysis, and delivery to client) to identify problems associated with existing CI processes. Include in the analysis: skills and qualifications of CI staff, knowledge and utilization of CI resources by business units, quality of intelligence sources, focus of intelligence analysis and effectiveness of intelligence distribution to priority clients. Next, use this information to develop solutions to confront the root causes of quality problems - testing them with data.

Map the company's current competitive knowledge base (intelligence audit of former employees, customers, vendors and partners) to determine internal and external sources of competitive and market information. Use this information to create a CI business and operational plan that addresses the key factors that impact the perceived value and ROI from CI operations.

To achieve continuous improvement, work closely with company business units, strategy and marketing organizations. Enhance the CI core competencies by training and educating new and existing CI staff, and continuously integrate new and improved tools and technology for research, information retrieval, and dissemination of intelligence.

Control the quality of CI processes through formal intelligence training, expansion of intelligence "assets", and on-going adoption of external best practices - focusing on repeatable intelligence processes. This will enable CI processes and intelligence "assets" to continuously strengthen - expanding the breadth of valued sources of business intelligence (especially human sources), and extend those contacts into long-term relationships.

Fountain-pen-size video cameras, dumpster diving or bribery will not put your company ahead. It will put you in jail for violating the federal Economic Espionage Act. And bending the rules a bit doesn't always have a favorable outcome - especially when the public finds out. Furthermore, inconsistent, low-quality information doesn't help decision-making and business planning activities. Implementing Six Sigma - a process for continued improvement by increasing performance and decreasing variation is the logical step. Customer-focused, data-driven decisions will make your company the market leader.

Todd C. Miller is the founder and president of Street Legal Communications. Street Legal Communications delivers a turnkey public relations service with outstanding results. Street Legal is an affordable, results oriented company that is a refreshing alternative to the high cost, high overhead agencies that don't deliver on promises. With very little direction, Street Legal will deliver exceptional results. Contact Todd Miller by e-mail: ,telephone 650-430-2733 and visit Street Legal Communications.

Many more articles in Competitive Intelligence in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Todd C. Miller. All rights reserved.

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