Competitive Intelligence + Strategy Event (CI+S) Post Conference Recap

During March 26-28, 2018, leaders in competitive intelligence and strategy joined forces to share best practices and ideas about the links between competitive intelligence (CI) and strategy. The CI+S event, held at the Embassy Suites in Burlingame CA, on the shore of the San Francisco Bay, provided opportunities to learn from the experiences of industry and subject matter peers.

Strategy Requires Intelligence

The event kicked off with an opening by Ben Gilad who shared that effective strategy requires intelligence, and without intelligence, strategy is just luck. With intelligence, good strategy lasts for years or even decades by creating sustainable differentiation in the market.

Illustrating the point, keynote speaker, Paul Amos (formally president of AFLAC), shared that AFLAC’s success is due to baseline strategy that has been in place since the company’s founding. The strategy, composed of three elements, remains in effect even today.  AFLAC’s strategy starts with a commitment to offer relevant products to customers, backed by a solid distribution system, and a commitment to grow accounts and customers. While this seems simple, it is a solid strategic base. The difficult part is staying focused on those three pillars, which is where CI comes into play. Adjusting implementation at AFLAC was done whenever market conditions changed, and quick response allowed AFLAC to maintain its market position. In the presentation, one aspect of CI that the speaker brought up was that it is equally as important to look at the number of competitors as it is to examine the number of competitive products on the market. A market with stable competitors and increasing products is different than a market with increasing competitors offering similar products. One is heading towards commoditization, while the other is becoming fractured.

Data-Driven Vs. Narrative-Driven CI

The next keynote speaker, Sameer Bhatti from Comcast, focused on delivering CI and setting strategy. A key development he noted is that today’s decision makers have shifted from data-driven to narrative- driven. In this world, the best (or loudest) narrative wins, and for CI to remain relevant, it must enhance data-driven analysis and presentations with a compelling narrative that shapes the discussion. While decision makers are moving to narrative-based processes, decision speed has become a competitive advantage. For the CI professional, the time to complete a OODA cycle (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) is shorter than ever. Companies with faster OODA cycles can gain time-based advantages in fast-moving markets. Fast OODA combined with effective narratives can drive strategy to quicker and more effective responses when the market changes.

Effective CI Unit Features

Fletcher/CSI presented results of its annual Effective CI survey at the event. Looking at what actions are used by effective CI units, the study identified several key actions common to the better performing units. Key actions that differentiate the effective units from others are:

  1. Engagement with a wide range of business units. Effective CI units are more likely to work with a wider variety of departments in the company, which gives them both a larger audience and a bigger support base.
  2. Effective CI units also provide a wider range of CI services, and do more of those services than other units. This includes more use of primary research, trade show intelligence, and strategy workshops.
  3. These units link CI results to recommendations for action. Effective CI units are more focused on driving results based on CI, which includes transforming the CI into action.
  4. When Effective CI units make recommendations, they are much more likely to be involved in the implementation of those recommendations. Being involved in the implementation keeps the units engaged, building constituencies that support CI.

Click the hyperlink to view the 2017/2018 Effective CI Survey Results.

Operations in a CI and Strategy unit

A panel discussion focused on operations in a CI and strategy unit. The following questions were answered around:

  1. How to use CI to support new market pursuit (tell the story, backed by facts, and be adaptive to local conditions)
  2. How to get executive attention (tailor the presentation to the executive and use a narrative, present the big picture)
  3. How to select which strategic decisions to support (align with executive priorities to keep a seat at the table, follow the money, and anticipate what is needed to protect the investment)
  4. Manage execution (provide output needed to support change, don’t avoid the unpleasant, use it to determine actions, and take risks to look where you’re not supposed to)
  5. Be a tribe of CI (share a vision across the CI unit, be “strategically provocative” to motivate change)
  6. How to move from current information to become a strategic division (always give analysis and have enough data to prove a point but deliver a narrative to support the strategy)

CI Unit Must be First to Anticipate

A later session proposed that the role of the CI unit is not to be the “first to know,” but rather the “first to anticipate”. The presenter highlighted the roles of Win/Loss analysis and primary research in moving to “first to anticipate.” The presenter did note that while some consider primary intelligence to be “soft” information, which is harder to validate, it is also more action-oriented. Primary research is also a key to effectively be the “first to anticipate” as it offers information that can’t be found in secondary sources.

Profit Pools

The second day of the event started with an assessment of profit pools as a CI and strategy analysis tool.  Profit pools identify where in the market ecosystem the largest profits are generated and can identify new sources of profit by looking at the full market. Tracking how the profit pool changes in response to market forces provides an early warning for new opportunities which can drive strategic decisions.

Executive Engagement

We wrapped up the event with sessions on how executives use CI and a history of how the McAfee CI unit has adapted to changing market and technology.  The key to get executives engaged is to follow three steps: Answer the “what is it” question and provide a “so what” reply that tells why it is important and a “now what” that gives the executives a range of strategic choices for what to do next.

Throughout the event, speakers emphasized the importance of communication between the CI unit, the strategy unit, and executives. While all communication is good, moving from data to narrative is more likely to produce change. The Fletcher/CSI effective CI survey shows that communication, linked to recommendations and action, is the key to driving strategic change based on CI findings. To learn more about how Fletcher/CSI can support your strategy development and drive change, contact us at [email protected].