Competitive Intelligence is Different on Each Side of the Atlantic. Can Risk Assessment Bridge the Water?

The adoption of competitive intelligence (CI) programs and practices is notably lower in Europe than the United States due to contrasting economic, cultural, political, and legal factors. One way to encourage the implementation of an intelligence function in European companies is to redefine the CI process as risk assessment. Using the term risk assessment should interest a range of stakeholders across an entire organization who want to ensure that their company is making the most strategic decisions. These stakeholders will demand greater detail, better insights, and specific recommendations for action if they believe that in-depth intelligence delivered via a “risk assessment” program is going to reduce risk and make their companies more profitable.

In order to understand why the term risk assessment would resonate well with European executives, let’s take a closer look at the two different markets on each side of the Atlantic, and the ways in which the CI practices differ.

In the United States, competitive Intelligence as a business discipline is not merely used to monitor competitors. It also supports performance improvements, quality, and speed of decisions to accurately assess risk. Furthermore, the intelligence function seeks to reduce the element of surprise, identify and eliminate blind-spots, and forecast events based on sound primary research and secondary research. Analysis is intended to produce actions that can be pre-emptive measures that ultimately make competitors’ strategies irrelevant.

In Europe, CI is now a defined business discipline, but is often limited to a single analyst developing high-level newsletters for disparate departments throughout an enterprise. These newsletters infrequently contain deep analysis or action steps. Internal analysts are rarely empowered to challenge marketing or management teams who often seek to bury bad news. Some analysts seem more worried about their careers and their annual bonuses, as opposed to raising red flags in order to secure the long-term successes of their companies.

Additionally, many European executives have militaristic attitudes, or highly competitive mind-sets, which cause them to develop paranoid obsessions about their rivals’ actions. This type of mind-set aims to uncover detailed competitive information that is so precise that it often results in a loss of focus on the larger strategic business issues at hand.

European cultures and markets are certainly more fragmented that the United States market. However, history provides countless case studies of organizations that failed to spot or predict the growth of external threats, either by the fundamental shift in market demand, a new innovation, the activity of an established competitor, or a new challenger. Substantial investment may already have been made in software, databases, and analytics, but without an early warning system, based on human intelligence, significant events are still missed, and actions cannot be enacted quickly enough.

While strategy workshops have been embraced by many organizations in the United States, in Europe, scenario planning is ad hoc. War-gaming is rarely embraced. Blind-spot analysis is a rare luxury. Mystery Shopping or customer Intelligence is a novel idea. Within this context, the speed of innovation by challengers becomes yet more relentless. New paradigms and new products can be created by rivals in remote parts of the world, and these rivals often seek to disrupt outdated last century business models. Without a collaborative intelligence process, employees can miss these signals.

A large European company may employ market research or insight professionals. However, for companies to create or maintain long term success, these professionals should be encouraged to adopt a broader and more holistic intelligence process and become truth tellers. Their roles should expand beyond ad hoc reports to include and create a truly collaborative communications culture where knowledge is shared, tested, evidence-based, and escalated on a continuous basis. Knowledge gaps should be highlighted and measures taken to fill the blind-spots. Senior management should incentivize and reward their intelligence teams to spot signals, assess risk, and deliver early warnings with recommended counter-actions.

If insight and research professionals are not empowered to act with a true sense of collaboration and shared intelligence, along with the aim to surface issues before they become problems, then the only certainty these companies will have to face in the future is that of trouble, lost opportunity and an ever-growing threat. Risk assessment is critical for companies to stay competitive.

– Gordon Donkin, Head EU Office, Fletcher/CSI

Gordon Donkin has worked in the field of KM technology, competitive analysis, and talent management for nearly three decades. He has traveled extensively throughout North America and Europe working with marketing, research, and intelligence teams of multinational companies. He is a past Chair of the London Chapter of SCIP and a Catalyst Award Winner. Email address: