Between May 14-17, 2018, approximately 400 Competitive Intelligence and Strategy professionals gathered in Orlando, FL for the 33rd Annual SCIP International Conference and Exhibition. Attendees were CI professionals representing most major industries. SCIP provides a venue for attendees to collaborate and learn through the exhibitors, networking sessions and luncheons, keynote presentations, and smaller breakout sessions. Several themes emerged during the conference.
Scenario Planning Workshop:
Fletcher/CSI kicked off the conference co-teaching a session on scenario planning. This full-day workshop featured our own Erik Glitman, joined with August Jackson of EY, Greg Bridgman of AlphaSense, and Kent Potter of the Bennion Group, as presenters. Participants worked on the key aspects of Scenario Planning starting with trend identification, trend projection, scenario creation, milestone identification, and action recommendations. The workshop focused on the emergence of autonomous vehicles and its impact on an auto manufacturer. Each team was tasked with building out a different scenario and the results demonstrated the value of scenario planning as a strategy tool. In the workshop, there was significant overlap in the potential strategy options for the auto manufacturer, even between the best-case and worst-case scenarios.
Past scenario planning workshops at SCIP have been proven to take place in the market and it will be fun to watch this year’s version play out. To keep track at home, the scenario strategies suggested that the manufacturer should move into a subscription-based business model that offers car sharing platforms with levels of customization and high levels of autonomous vehicle functionality.
Next Generation Intelligence:
The key theme that prevailed throughout a significant number of presentations was “Next Generation Intelligence.” Attendees were encouraged to share their insights about this topic via social media using the hashtag, #scipnextgen18. Presenters emphasized that the intelligence environment is rapidly evolving due to economic, political, and technological factors. The combination of these factors is forcing competitive intelligence professionals to utilize processes that enable a more efficient collection of data, analysis, and decision-making.
Information Overload and Machine Learning:
Several of the keynote presentations and breakout sessions focused on how information overload continues to impact the ways that we gather and analyze data. In the opening keynote, the presenter explained that technology has provided access to massive volumes of data, and Machine Learning allows us to quickly process this data to make faster decisions. To illustrate his points, he discussed how the fastest trains and race cars must continuously analyze loads of Big Data to anticipate their competitors’ actions and outperform their rivals. In these scenarios, the machine becomes a member of the analysis team and is always monitoring ways to improve performance.
During one notable breakout session, presenters explained that Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are not novel concepts; however, these ideas are becoming more important as data volumes and the processing power of computers increase. A key issue is that CI professionals now must deal with the combination of information overload, data scientists, and human engagement via clicks and comments that fuels Machine Learning and leads to better algorithms. These developments and advanced algorithms enable practitioners to identify the best data sources, quickly gather intelligence, and analyze the findings to produce better results. Machine learning and AI can filter information and allow the analyst to focus on the implications and actions, producing more effective CI.
Machines Can’t Replace Humans:
While computers certainly enable CI practitioners to collect and analyze data more quickly, technology can’t replace the role of the human intelligence professional. The key to innovation for any organization is the ability to ask the right questions. Employees strive to obtain answers as quickly as possible, but answers can terminate the inquiry process before all possible data points and scenarios are vetted. Therefore, the key to advancing an organization is to keep asking the right questions. Big Data serves as an adjunct to the inquiry process, but it is the experienced driver that oversees the strategic initiative and makes sense of the entire inquiry process to elicit change.
In the presentations, there were claims that by 2020, we can expect to have 50 trillion GB of data. While this may seem bad for the CI professional, there is a difference between data and intelligence. This insures that there will be a need for the human CI unit alongside the AI and Machine Learning components. CI practitioners will see an evolution in their day-to-day roles as they integrate more technology and data points into their analyses. However, CI practitioners will always be needed to draw the conclusions and recommendations from the data sets that will influence strategic decisions within their organizations. In an in-session survey, the audience was asked if they thought that artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace CI professionals in the future; and 89% stated “maybe, for some tasks.” Machine Learning tools will change the methods and speeds of raw data analysis, but the human practitioner is needed to extrapolate the true meaning and inform decision-making.
Information Processing Techniques:
Delivery of intelligence remains a key factor in CI success. CI practitioners can have access to all the information in the world, but won’t be able to glean anything meaningful unless the information is packaged in a digestible manner. During a plenary session, a presenter explained that attention spans are decreasing due to information overload. People forget 90% of information presented after 48 hours, so information needs to be memorable to have an influence. The best ways to be memorable are to keep messages consistent and focus on three or four key points for the audience to retain. CI practitioners should keep this in mind as they create deliverables for stakeholders. More data does not mean more conclusions and recommendations. It is more important than ever to pull out the key points and present them in succinct formats so that information is digestible and actionable.
The role of neuroscience was addressed during another keynote presentation. It was explained that presentation slides need to be clean and focus on storytelling to promote information retention. A tip was to keep aware that where information is placed on a slide has impact and that information presented on the side of slides can be disruptive to the visual cortex. Unnecessary visuals, such as the excessive use of corporate logos, should be avoided to prevent distractions.
If CI practitioners truly want to inform decision-making and move their organizations forward, they need to make sure that their key information points are not lost in translation. This will continue to become more challenging during the next generation of intelligence, and require the CI practitioner to be more diligent than ever.