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Mission Not Impossible!
Define Your CI Unit Position

  By Alessandro Comai
University of Pompeu
Fabra, Spain

Actionable competitive intelligence supplies the key intelligence and information that provides knowledge about the external environment and improves the quality of senior managers’ decisions. Creating a valuable competitive intelligence function that meets the various needs of internal clients requires its developer to consider the multiple facets of competitive intelligence. Leveraging resources, identifying key intelligence priorities, exploiting information sources, creating a culture of gathering and sharing information, building ethical processes and applying information technology all play key roles in any competitive intelligence function.

The organization of competitive intelligence programs differ among firms. In fact, each program reflects the various factors that make it unique. For instance, the company’s degree of its globalization, age, size and culture all influence the development and the resources it invests in CI. But all competitive intelligence programs have similar choices in common:

       • Do they produce marketing or technology intelligence?
       • Is the unit positioned at the corporate or department level?
       • How are external and internal sources exploited?
       • Is the company using any future-oriented models when analyzing the    

Knowing the answers to these questions makes it possible to understand which aspects are more suitable for a specific organization.

In addition, all good competitive intelligence programs have mission statements that are developed and implemented based on the individual culture and needs of the specific organization. Mission statements help ensure that the competitive intelligence function meets the requirements of all its internal clients. These statements drive a strategy for advancing the competitive intelligence function. This article describes a framework for constructing an effective mission statement based on six key dimensions.


Mission statements represent a clearly defined evolutionary strategy for how to develop and advance the competitive intelligence function in an organization (Comai 2005). Several individuals have developed definitions for the concept of competitive intelligence mission statements. For example, Simon wrote:


The mission is a statement of business and purpose—the fundamental reason for the unit's existence. It is the specific duties or services that a unit imposes on itself, often reflecting the core values of managers in an organization (1997, p91).


Pollard also saw the importance of a mission statement. “The benefit of competitor intelligence can only be maximized with the right competitor intelligence strategy, which might be summarized in a mission statement.” It should include “what intelligence should be produced and for whom, from what sources, and what process” (Pollard, 1999, p 30).


There is a fundamental difference between vision and mission. For De Wit and Meyer,


[t]he mission outlines the fundamental principles guiding strategic choices; a strategic vision outlines the desired future at which the company hopes to arrive. In other words, vision provides a business aim, while mission provides business principles (2004, p593).


Understanding and applying both concepts helps guide an individual competitive intelligence function to a world-class level.




Competitive intelligence mission statements should be developed according to the needs of the individual organization. For example, MetLife believes the competitive intelligence function should “provide the right information, to the right people, at the right time, to make the right decision” (APQC, 1999, p 80).


The model discussed in this article presents a general overview of the potential of competitive intelligence as well as the “meta objectives” that an organization may adopt to guide the function. McKenney said, “Clearly stating your objectives is key for any successful implementation” (2005, p12).


A mission statement defines the aims of the competitive intelligence function and its future achievements. It also represents a guideline for allocating resources and capabilities. To develop an effective mission statement, create a steering committee and involve senior managers in the project at an early stage. According to Trim:


In order that an effective Corporate Intelligence Unit is established it is essential that senior management defines what it is and what it involves (2001, p91).




An effective competitive intelligence mission statement incorporates elements that answer the following four key questions:


       • What is driving our ideas?

       • Why does the competitive intelligence function exist?
       • What is the fundamental importance of the function?
       • Where does the function operate?


Under this perspective, thinking strategically about who and what the competitive intelligence function serves leads to an effective mission statement that can be formed around six dimensions:

       1. Process. Is the CI function systematic, an ad hoc–based project, or a
           mix between the two?

       2. Type. How is the CI function managed in the organization?

       3. Scope. At which level of the organization is the CI function’s focus        

       4. Location. Which department is involved in CI?

       5. Time span. How future-oriented is the CI function?

       6. Object. What kind of key actors does the organization follow?




These six dimensions show several options for defining a competitive intelligence function, and a myriad possible CI configurations. They also point to significant differences in the way an organization can structure and operate its competitive intelligence operations.


Despite these differences, there are similarities in some dimensions across industries. For instance, pharmaceutical companies typically spend significant resources on technical intelligence, while and aerospace companies tend to be strategic and oriented toward up-front intelligence. A study conducted by ions tend to have some common objectives that are independent to the industry.


An organization can effectively define where to invest the resources to develop its competitive intelligence function if it knows the differences and similarities between the various ways to focus its competitive intelligence function. It also assists in defining CI priorities within the company and the different dimensions that can be developed during that time.


Based on the six dimensions, the mission statement crystallizes the option that an organization has chosen for its competitive intelligence function. It allows the organization to not only communicate the focus for the current situation, but also determine the future of the CI function.




When starting or revamping a competitive intelligence function, involved parties should consider these six dimensions and how they apply to their particular environment. Constructing the function around these dimensions will help to define the most effective competitive intelligence function within the organization.


Considering the six dimensions will also provide a framework for developing an effective competitive intelligence mission statement. Establishing and following a mission statement ensures that the CI function meets the needs of internal clients and provides actionable intelligence to the organization’s decision-making process.

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