Is Your CI Unit Effective? Insights from the 5th Annual Effective CI Survey

Our 30-year anniversary coincided with the administration and analysis of our 5th Annual Effective CI Survey. We originally launched the survey five years ago to identify CI best practices and understand how they directly link to more effective CI units. The survey aggregates insights from hundreds of CI and strategy professionals about CI unit structures, research activities, deliverables, and vendor selection criteria. The goal of gathering and analyzing this data is to help CI professionals across industries become more effective so they can influence strategic decisions that have the greatest impact on their organizations.

Since the survey initiated, we’ve continued to administer it to participants across all industries to track how the world of CI and best practices continue to evolve. Below are 10 of the key findings from the 5th Annual Effective CI Survey. While analyzing the highlights, it is interesting to reflect on the key features of CI units that have both changed and remained the same over the past 30 years. Please feel free to share your thoughts about how the CI unit has evolved over time in the comments section below.

  1. Only 24% of participants across all industries rate their CI units as very effective, which indicates that most CI units do no maximize their potential value to their organizations.
  2. The CI unit must report to the right group internally to have the greatest impact. Effective CI units are 2x more likely to report to the C-Suite or Strategy than the average CI unit.
  3. Effective CI units focus on strategic initiatives and deliverables that have a wide internal reach and drive change across multiple functions within their companies.
  4. Employees from effective CI units develop projects and research agendas in collaboration with end-users and obtain buy-in from end-users before projects are initiated.
  5. Competitive deep dives, ad-hoc summaries, and newsletters are heavily used by effective CI units as deliverable formats, but portal usage is also high among the most effective units.
  6. Competitor monitoring and profile development are important activities performed by effective CI units, but they also focus on strategic projects, including win/loss analysis, strategy workshops, and trade show intelligence.
  7. The most effective CI units facilitate 20-40 win/loss deals per year, 1 or more strategy workshops per year, and 2-5 trade shows per year.
  8. While most CI units use secondary databases, effective CI units also conduct primary interviews with competitor employees and subject matter experts.
  9. Effective CI units are actively involved in decision and implementation processes. These units lead change at strategic and tactical levels, and are 2.5x more likely to be part of the implementation team than less effective units.
  10. Employees from effective CI units are 2x more likely to engage in debriefs and regular interactions with top executives. This helps to ensure that recommendations are heard and implemented once projects are completed.

As we reflect on the survey analysis and think about how the typical CI unit has evolved over the past 30 years, the main takeaway is that the most effective units have become more strategic in nature. The CI units that operate in silos and simply executive tasks without any collaboration with the end-users do not maximize their full value to their companies. When looking at the 2018 data set, only 24% of CI units believe that their units are very effective. This indicates that there are strong opportunities to move most CI units in a more strategic direction. CI units and all relevant stakeholders that do not currently classify themselves as very effective should consider the survey insights, and pick a few key areas to focus on to achieve incremental improvements over time.

For more information about effective CI units, please visit the 5th Annual Effective CI Survey Results and the Effective CI Survey Highlights. If you wish to learn more about Fletcher/CSI and our CI process consulting experience, please contact us at or 802-660-9636 for more information.

-Author: Holly McClelland, Director of Marketing, Fletcher/CSI