Informal CI

This blog was started to explore the different ways that CI as a profession is evolving to meet the new challenges of a rapidly changing environment. This evolution has far reaching implications into both how we do CI and how CI is used in the company. One development I’d like to talk about today is the emergence of informal CI networks within companies and how these networks are changing who within a company collects, analyzes, and uses CI.

I’ve seen a series of pulses in CI over the years. The first, centralization, comes as companies embrace the discipline and build a centralized CI unit tasked with coordinating corporate CI and keeping senior management informed on competitive issues. The main user of this CI unit is the senior management, and the focus usually starts out as strategic. Over time, the demands of shorter-term CI grow, and these same units tend to lose their strategic focus. This in turn leads to the second pulse, decentralization, as companies push CI responsibility to divisional or business unit levels, where the focus is more on keeping product and brand managers informed on specific competitors.

But it seems that we are now moving to a new pulse, one that is between formal and informal. Some newer collaboration tools allow multiple parts of the company to find, analyze, and act on CI from a broader range of sources. In these networks, CI is collected, analyzed, and used by multiple parts of the company, sometimes in a coordinated effort, sometimes ad hoc. In these networks, the person collecting CI for one application shares that CI with other network members, who may use the CI for completely different purposes.

For now, most of these collaboration networks are informal, and the collaborators take advantage of newly developed sharing technology to be able to openly exchange findings. Since this process is very ad hoc, it is likely to become a bit more formal, and management moves in to control the flow of information and start to tie efforts to strategic initiatives.

Which makes me wonder if the pulses will go from formalization to informalization and back again. This would mirror the older process of centralization and decentralization. If it does, we can expect to see a regular pulsing between the central control of formal networks and development of informal ad hoc networks. As the informal networks become more powerful and adept at the fundamental roles of CI, they will be subsumed into the corporate structure. And then, as the formal structure gets too controlling and stifles individual initiative, new informal structures will emerge to go around the corporate restrictions.

The successful CI professional in these new systems will have to be a strong networker, able to bring together diverse teams to address specific company CI issues and then distribute the results for maximum benefit. Of course, they’ll still need to master the basic CI tools of collection, analysis, and recommendation, but it will be the ability to quickly identify collaborators and unite them behind a common goal that will differentiate the successful from the also-ran.

Erik Glitman, CEO