Attention, all business professionals who double as fans of a good detective story: Any lead detective worth his or her salt first attacks the case by compiling an exhaustive amount of evidence from witnesses and documents.

But this information alone often isn’t enough for these intelligence heroes. Using intuition, reasoning, and analytic skills, these savvy investigators interpret the data in a manner that gives them the upper hand in reaching a successful resolution.

Likewise, as business professionals, you need to harness your inner sleuth to accumulate the best possible business intelligence and utilize it to your competitive advantage within your industry. Raw data is great, but it’s not enough to make good business decisions in today’s competitive marketplace.

Why There’s a Need to Evolve

Google, perhaps more than any company, pioneered the accumulation of intelligent data for business professionals. When it launched Google Alerts as a free service in 2003, email notifications automatically went to registered users every time Google’s search engine located new results (web pages, research data, articles, etc.) matching the user’s specified search terms.

Each new result generated a unique message, letting users identify a product, name, or topic to receive up-to-the-minute information about. Extremely innovative in its day, Google Alerts used algorithms to pull a vast amount of information.

But as technology and intelligence gathering continue to evolve, however, business professionals expect more than just a deluge of data to remain competitive in the marketplace. A human touch must be applied to the data to ensure accurate signals.

Data needs to be easy to understand and structured so takeaways can be quickly identified.

And with so many venues out there hosting data — blogs, press releases, etc. — business professionals not only need to know what they’re looking at, but also how it can help them.

Put Your Data Into Focus

In the old days, a desktop computer might have been the best tool to locate competitive intelligence. Nowadays, laptops, tablets, and smartphones are helpful aids in completing the task of gathering up-to-the-minute information in the constantly changing business landscape.

But how should you use business intelligence in today’s environment? The simple answer is to paint your company’s competitive graph, detailing opponents, prospects, vendors, and customers. In other words, you need to ensure you have an accurate view of how you stack up against the competition.

The great thing about competitive intelligence is that all departments and employees in your company can reap the benefits. Manufacturing and engineering, for instance, are often considered backline operations in the company’s organizational structure; intelligence allows every department to understand the company’s competitive position in each respective industry.

Sales and marketing use it to keep a finger on the pulse of their customers and prospects, while finance and purchasing utilize competitive data to ascertain knowledge on customer credit and vendors, respectively. Every section of a company stands to reap the rewards of competitive intelligence when it’s applied correctly.

Rise to the Top With Good Competitive Intelligence

With the right intelligence, all departments can analyze operational processes, potentially reducing costs and maximizing resources and expertise. That’s a good thing for your bottom line. Here are three tips you can follow to obtain the best information:

1. Phase out industry newsletters. Your goal is to quiet the noise, not increase the amount of information coming to your inbox. Many industry newsletters provide no beneficial information.

Instead, focus on information about your competitors, looking to formulate as complete a picture as possible. Consider who you’re up against and who they work with. Ask yourself how industry colleagues came upon new initiatives, how those ventures got funded, and where their exposure came from.

Don’t let a newsletter tell you what’s new. Gather information on the companies you’re interested in to determine your next course of action.

2. Give data a consistent look. Clean, uniformly formatted data is easier for your employees to understand and analyze. Conversely, a blob of text that contains a smattering of concepts probably won’t be easy to digest.

Think about how you react when somebody sends you an email or hands you a written analysis with a solid black wall of paragraphs. It’s great for throwing darts at, maybe, but who’s going to take the time to read something like that? Make sure information is easy on the eyes to achieve maximum impact.

3. Take design into account. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good, consistent appearance to your data gathering. Organize news and alerts in sections that are easily grasped by your employees.

Sections should include related concepts and information. It’s like having a great idea for a detective story, but saddling it with a sloppy, illogical plot. Just look at Twitter — the 140-character limit helps focus readers on the intended message.

In today’s challenging business world, you need more than just the data itself. Think of how that data is organized and presented to your employees. Then, stand by for the exciting climax. That comes when employees easily interpret the data and use it to outsmart the competition.