Last year, Maggi, Nestle India’s biggest product was accused of breaking health and safety laws in the country. The resulting 5-month ban cost the international firm a whopping $347 million in losses and payments. While Nestle was suffering due to a lack of market intelligence, a small, relatively unknown, competitor by the name of Ramdev marketed his brand of quick noodles as healthier and cheaper than Maggi, building a niche for himself.

Ramdev’s marketing strategy for his noodles was straight out of a competitive intelligence textbook. Unfortunately, not many firms use this little-known, yet widely effective, business strategy.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 49% of competitive intelligence analysts believe that their findings do not affect the decision-making process. Yet, the integration of competitive intelligence in mainstream decision-making continuously proves beneficial. According to stats offered by Track Maven, 90% of the Fortune 500 companies use data collected by competitive intelligence in medium to long-term decision making.

What is Competitive Intelligence (CI)?

Competitive intelligence refers to the collection of any and every kind of information about your firm’s market and using that information to make decisions that facilitate constant change. The main aim of gathering such intelligence is coming across opportunities and risks before they come across you.

CI isn’t Just About Competition

First up, it’s important to understand that even though it’s called ‘competitive’ intelligence, CI’s really more about the entire market, its intricacies and where it’ll go in the future. According to AMZInsight’s CMO, “CI is actually about figuring out the entire platform you’re performing on so you can become more agile, adaptive, flexible in your decisions and immune to sudden changes.”

Integrating CI in Decisions

As we’ve learned, CI is about collating market data and keeping an eye on a multitude of management perspectives and possibilities. CI-based decisions involve studying current industry mechanics, predicting what will happen in the future and making decisions based on these predictions. However, people who collect and analyze information have a very different outlook from managers, who have to translate those insights into hands-on, flexible strategies across all platforms of their business.

While intelligence experts have to make the information understandable, managers need to make it personal (for their firm).

How can the two work together?

The CI Department

The first step is to form a separate department for intelligence management – and not one of those tactical subdivisions located five floors away from top executives. Invest a good load of money in it.

The department must be headed by a CI manager – someone who understands raw data, makes it fathomable for the layperson and offer company-wide changes based on the data.

The CI department’s initial goals can be based on market challenges and threats to the firm and how they can be tackled. Don’t define how intelligence is to be collected – leave that to the experts you’ve hired. Instead, sit with the CI manager and decide how raw data can be turned into visions you can act upon. This will be achieved by some combination of human evaluation and technical support analysis.

Finally, since many people in your firm will still be hostile to an initiative they view as waste, you can also develop performance indicators and measurement systems for the CI department.

Implementing CI Management

Implementing decisions made on the basis of the data collected will be much harder, especially given that not everyone in the firm will back CI’s ambiguity-based decisions.

You can begin with a single department – one that can absorb a CI-based strategy to their systems with ease. The marketing department would be the smart choice, as it already thrives on market intelligence. If CI integration works there, you can start integrating it in other departments.

Can CI be used in Innovation?

It’s still very hard to say if CI can provide usable data besides things like patent information.

Nevertheless, firms like Intel use a combination of technological surveillance and competitive intelligence to keep tabs on the latest research material, technical developments and experiments in their field.

One should remember how important it is to keep tabs on technological developments. It once took decades for the next big innovation – that’s no longer the case, with new iPhones coming in every year and VR following augmented reality in a just a few years. Given the speed and quantity of advancements rolling out every second, CI’s role in innovation is only going to go uphill.