Cimi.con USA was held November 6-8th in Boston, MA and attracted CI professionals from around the world. The conference kicked off with a presentation from Celestine Turner Hall of Sage, who spoke about the CI function moving from that of a service provider to a strategic advisor. This idea of movement and positioning was a consistent theme throughout the conference and focused on three main areas;
- Transformation and Trends
- How we think of competitive intelligence as a function
- Using AI
1. Transformation & Trends
Presenters and attendees explored the idea of using trends to better position themselves, and their company for future developments. Common themes were about identifying mega trends, upcoming trends, the impact trends have on company’s/consumer’s, and when to jump on a trend.
Kalyan Krishnan from Sensata spoke about “Operating in a B2B Industry Heavily Affected by Transformation”. He spoke about how his company’s organization allows them to not only identify trends, but to act on the ones that are relevant to their business or could affect their business.
In breakout sessions, we discussed how the mega trends don’t seem to be anything new. Trends like going green, and eating healthy, have been talked about for so long they hardly seem like a trend but more of a culture. What does feel new are mega trend related “sub-trends” that gain enough attention to turn into a movement. A recent example would be the turtle video which sparked consumers, and businesses alike to stop using plastic straws. Even though most companies are aware of the push to “go-green”, the rapid change in consumer preferences probably shocked many traditional straw companies.
We learn from this that companies need to evaluate how sub-trends that exemplify mega trends can affect their industry and prepare for that possibility. When trying to effectively prepare for transformation & trends Krishnan offered 3 pieces of advice or wisdom:
- Assess the needs of the customer now vs what they will be in the future
- Use hypotheses to test what works
- Fail fast, learn, and move forward
2. How we Think of Competitive Intelligence as a Function
Many CI professionals in companies work in small departments, or departments of one, and have little time yet must cover many issues. In this environment, it’s easy to forget that the purpose of CI is to provide value through the intelligence you collect.
Alysse Nockels, from Tanium presented on ‘Return of Intelligence – How to Calculate ROI on the CI Teams Efforts’ where she discussed on how to focus your CI unit’s efforts. Whether it’s through the tools you select, the reports you present, or the project you accept, the CI unit should remain focused on its goals. She stressed that to achieve these goals, the CI unit must work with other functions, and that an isolated CI unit is an inefficient unit. The CI unit, no matter how big or small, should network with other functions to help and provide value to them. Having these contacts helps create a force multiplier for the CI unit, and while improving quality and impact.
In breakout sessions, there were discussions on the difficulties CI professionals face when trying to get stakeholders on board. While there are different tricks to presenting data, the most effective is to tell a story that proves why the information is relevant and matters. In general, it was suggested that a mix of quantitative and qualitative data is the best way to tell the story; using quantitative data to answer the what, and qualitative data to answers the why. All CI unties must provide not only information, but also a message that resonates.
3. Using AI
AI is where trends and CI’s functional challenges seem to merge. AI has been a Tech buzzword for quite some time, yet questions remain as to whether it’s ready to use for CI, or even how to use it. The consensus at the conference seems to be that “Yes” AI is ready, but only for delivering some things.
The most common use for AI is scraping the web for information and aggregating that information into a newsletter, hub, or dashboard. Often these results are based on specified keywords that the machine is told to look for, and as it learns it can also suggest new ones. This can be a great way to better understand what competitors are saying and promoting, and what other industry participants are talking about. Those who are hesitant to buy into the AI hype cite that really its only practical in a few scenarios, such as web scrapping. Skeptics also point out that the amount of data it collects can be overwhelming, and not actually helpful.
While Cimi.con USA was small, it provided ample opportunity to meet people, and form strong connections. The speakers and breakout sessions helped frame the experience of CI professionals, and gave the opportunity to learn, and explore a wide range of topics. We look forward to the 2020 events, both the CiMi.con event this June in Berlin and the upcoming 2020 event in the US.
-Aimee Boivin, Marketing Specialist