BLAST FROM THE PAST
Creating a Lean CI Department in Just 18 Months
By Christian Frey
Head, Competitive/Business Intelligence
Sika Services AG
Two years ago I was tasked with developing a centralized competitive intelligence function at Sika Services AG. Located in Baar, Switzerland, Sika is a globally integrated company that supplies specialty chemicals markets. With subsidiaries in more than 70 countries worldwide, Sika has 12,900 employees and generates approximately four billion dollars in annual sales.
In recent years, Sika has experienced phenomenal growth, expanding from a medium-sized company to a global concern. In the past, information was shared largely on an informal basis but this was no longer possible. An additional challenge was the decentralized storage of information. Everyone knew something about markets, competitors and customers, but this knowledge was not linked; nor were the various processes and information access rights clearly defined. As a result, the same market studies were sometimes commissioned by two different departments or individuals.
INTELLIGENCE FUNCTION OUTSOURCING
At Sika we define business intelligence as the sum of all relevant information about markets, customers, competitors and suppliers. Instead of developing a separate competitive intelligence department within Sika, management decided to outsource a major portion of the CI cycle, namely the collection, processing and distribution of primary and secondary information. These are essentially manual tasks which can easily be contracted out to specialized firms at a low-cost rather than using the time and skills of a highly paid analyst. At Sika, the information is now gathered and formatted externally and each business unit receives a regularly published newsletter with the information stored in an intelligence portal. Top management receives an executive summary of information presented at a strategic level. Data analysis and action plan formulation remain in house.
Another benefit of our outsourced solution is the cost to internal clients who’ve requested competitive information. When something has no cost, it has no value. However, when internal clients have to pay for the information, more than half of the initial inquiries were viewed as less urgent and less important. It then became possible to focus on the most important projects, those that have a high strategic impact and are paid for by senior managers.
KEY FACTORS FOR A SPEEDY AND SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION
During the CI implementation at Sika AG, we identified the following factors as essential to the quick development of our successful CI program.
The CI Manager must have access to a dedicated budget when developing a CI function. This is required to establish the vision and define the capabilities for the function. When the manager has to request approval for each expense (i.e. software trials or visits to other CI organizations) and run the risk of being denied, reaching the final destination can be very difficult.
Dedicated staff member
Building a competitive intelligence function is a full-time commitment. It doesn’t work when a business development manager or strategic marketing officer tries to develop a CI solution on the side. When CI is secondary, other urgent and important tasks within their own function will take precedence.
Tools follow products (content) follow needs (KITs) follow stakeholders’ definition
The flow of information must be designed to meet the information needs of internal clients. This defines the role of the future CI manager. The first questions to ask are:
What are the specific information needs of my internal clients?
How will the clients apply this information?
In what format and how often do they need the information?
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What is the culture of the company?
Is the company driven by procedures and guidelines, or is it more informal and relaxed?
Is the company’s communication culture based predominantly on face-to-face interactions or dependent on long and detailed e-mails?
It’s important to be visible to your internal clients so they recognize the name and face behind the CI function. Introduce yourself to potential CI clients and remind current clients of the services you provide by conducting internal road shows, giving presentations to senior management and participating in sales events, etc. This also helps create an information-sharing environment and educates internal clients about what a CI department can—and can’t--do for them. You want potential clients to know your group is available to help and how you’re prepared to do so.
Big egos need not apply
As a CI manager, you need to understand that your primary responsibility is to provide support for other functions within the organization, enabling them to make better, faster and more cost-effective decisions. Most CI professionals are suppliers of information and analysis for senior management and the various specialized functions and departments within the company. As such, they don’t receive a lot of public recognition for their efforts. Professionals who are uncomfortable with this lack of visibility would be better off going for a career in sales or marketing.
Sika applies a feedback process to every project whether it was conducted internally or outsourced. The department that commissioned the work evaluates and rates the CI output in terms of quality and usefulness. This facilitates process improvement and helps us to continuously develop our CI skills. And, the remuneration of the outsourcing partner is dependent on the quality of their deliverables.
Key account management
The relationship between the company and its outsourcing partner is simplified when there are clearly identified contacts within both organizations. These contacts coordinate the various projects and activities, channel the flow of information to multiple users and generally manage the relationship.
Like Sika Services AG, if you adopt these measures and set to work with the necessary drive and enthusiasm, you can successfully establish a lean CI department in 18 months.
About the author:
Based in Zurich, Switzerland, Christian Frey works for Sika Services AG as the head of Competitive/Business Intelligence. He began his career at Sika over 20 years ago as an apprentice in
R&D before earning his master’s degree in economics. During his university studies, Frey worked in several positions within Sika (R&D, controlling, marketing and technical services). Later he joined ExxonMobil in Switzerland, where he was head of purchasing and accounts payable, before returning to Sika in his current position.