SCIP Insight eBulletin
  October 2010  |  Vol. 2 Issue 10  CONNECT

Be Careful What You Wish For

  Kenneth A. Sawka
Managing Partner
Outward Insights

Many tactical competitive intelligence functions want to move to a more strategic positioning. That’s all well and good, but before you attempt to reposition your intelligence function, be sure you acknowledge all that doing so entails. While desiring a more strategic role sounds promising, it can be a hard position to achieve and maintain, and may require skill sets commonly not found in tactical competitive intelligence systems.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with a tactical intelligence function. In many cases, a tactical orientation can have a more direct contribution to business performance and results, as it is often easier to track tactical CI’s contribution to revenue generation, expense reduction, or other quantifiable measures. Still, many intelligence practitioners feel that moving to a more strategic position will give their competitive intelligence function more executive presence and, ultimately, greater value.

Repositioning the intelligence function, however, can be difficult to accomplish. Why? It can be hard to abandon the tactical issues and users it has been serving, as tactical demands may continue to be placed on the intelligence function long after it has stated its intention to occupy a more strategic position. In addition, many practitioners find it hard to “say no” to their former internal clients, and cannot always redirect them to other resources that can help serve their tactical needs.

Moreover, upon embarking on the transition to a strategic position, many competitive intelligence functions realize that they lack the skill set and talent to address strategic issues. In most cases, the information research and analysis methodologies employed by intelligence functions differ greatly between strategic and tactical issues (see table). Achieving a more strategic positioning, therefore, usually requires mastering new analysis skills.

Perhaps most significantly, applying competitive intelligence more strategically can require the ability to stand “toe-to-toe” with senior management to present and defend findings and work collaboratively to discuss and debate different decision options. Many intelligence professionals see doing so as a potentially risky endeavor, especially when senior executives challenge or disagree with their judgments. The ability to work with senior intelligence consumers in this fashion, however, is a necessity for any strategically positioned intelligence program.

Although a tactically-oriented program may wish to be more strategically positioned, doing so carries risks and demands. Competitive intelligence managers wishing to achieve a more strategic position should look critically at whether they and their team have or can acquire the skills and capabilities to meet the requirements of a strategic competitive intelligence program. Some may recognize that a tactically oriented program is delivering tangible value to the organization, and provides a more comfortable position.

Issues Covered Day-to-day:
Price changes.
Sales force deployment. Tweaks to market messaging.
Industry trends.
Mergers & acquisitions.
In-depth competitor
Research Methods Focused on field intelligence, customer insights Multiple sources such as field sales, industry journals, consultants, etc.
Analysis Methods Win loss.
Product comparisons.
Porter’s five forces.
Value Chain.
Ansoff’s product-matrix.
Consumers Sales teams.
Customer support.
Top management.
Marketing strategy.
Business development.
Applications and Uses Win business today Plan for tomorrow

About the author:

Ken Sawka is the Managing Partner at Outward Insights, a Boston-area strategy and competitive intelligence consulting firm. Ken has more than 20 years of business and government intelligence experience and has appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box and in publications such as Time and Investor's Business Daily. He can be reached at

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