Follow-up: Dow Jones Webinar, The Impact of Web 2.0 on Competitive Intelligence

Dow Jones presented a free webinar on the topic, The Impact of Web 2.0 on Competitive Intelligence last night (for me). The session features Knowledge inForm’s Cynthia Cheng Correia.

Firstly… Wow! Cynthia’s content was not only detailed, but well presented and thought out for her audience. I have to admit, going into the webinar I wasn’t expecting much (not any slight on Cynthia, I’ve just never taken part in a free information webinar before, so my expectations were low).

What I got out of the webinar was a much better understanding of the framework needed to assess and take advantage of Web 2.0 in your daily CI tasks, be they gathering, analyzing or distributing information and insight.

I wont post the full deck here, but I will take one of the slides that neatly summarizes Cynthia’s main points and reproduce it here. When the recorded presentation becomes available you can get the full low-down. (Guessing it will be here when that happens). Link to the archive is here.

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As I mentioned, I pulled out some good insight for myself and how we’re using portions of Web 2.0 at Microsoft.

  • Content & Information is moving towards Collaboration and Knowledge. E.G. as people interact, knowledge is harnessed via the interaction, rather than just collection.
  • Web 2.0 can have a massive effect on how we currently plan and project manage. Prioritizing the right forms of Web 2.0 information sources at the right time.
  • There is still a need for a clear framework for collection and idea of what you end result you are looking for – otherwise you end up with the firehose, rather than a funnel.

And one caveat:

Definitely keep an eye out for when Cynthia delivers this presentation again, it was well worth my time – even at 11pm here in Singapore.. and that’s a rare occurrence!

**As a side note: I think Web 2.0 should be renamed “the Web” (Web 2.0 is what the Internet is all about now). I think there is just as much jaded concern and mistrust around Web 2.0 as there was for “e”-everything back during the Bubble.

Dow Jones Webinar, The Impact of Web 2.0 on Competitive Intelligence

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This could be interesting. At least I haven’t heard too much on this topic as it relates to our profession.

Dow Jones is presenting presenting a free webinar on the topic, The Impact of Web 2.0 on Competitive Intelligence. It’s on 17 July at 11:00 AM EDT (GMT-4), so all you APAC CI people, you can stay up with me!

The session features Knowledge inForm’s Cynthia Cheng Correia.

Based on what I hear from this session, I promise I’ll put together my own recorded webinar on gathering CI over Blogs, Online Databases, Linkedin, etc. I have a bit of an older-school take on this topic as I’m a proud Gen-Xer.

 

Visualizing Data – Code_Swarm

O’Reilly Radar has a fantastic post on Michael Ogawa’s “code_swarm”, an elegant visualization of the birth and development of an Open Source software project. In the case below it’s Python, but Michael has also covered Eclipse and Apache. Code_Swarm clearly shows the way interactions build into a critical mass, as new information and code is put into the project and as side-projects orbit, fuse and spin off as the software takes shape.

Visualizing data is, in my opinion, one of the hottest areas of analytics and by extension, market research, intelligence and CI.

Imagine, if you will, a series of customer interactions leading up to a unexpected loss to a competitor. Instead of code changes or documents being the swarm; emails, phone calls, marketing efforts, support interactions and so on could all be thrown into such a visualization model. Tracked back against a point in time or an specific activity, patterns could emerge that could be easily leveraged for competitive intelligence.

Apart from anything else, presenting data (at a very high level) to a senior audience would be a great opportunity to share an experience, to visualize a time series and to ultimately want to move into the “now what do we do phase”. For me, there is an increased level of buy-in that is afforded when you all share that common experience.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “code_swarm – Python on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

PS: Hoping the video embeds correctly!

Starbucks Sunday

Found myself with a few minutes space this afternoon inside a Starbucks here in Singapore’s famous Orchard Road. I have written before about the coolness of being able to hit a free WiFi service here Wireless@SG, which is run by SingTel.

A bit of a different experience this time compared to last. A huge coffee lounge, seating about 40 or so patrons, a large proportion sucking down the free WiFi also. Certainly the bandwidth has suffered, which raises an interesting question in light of AT&T’s announcement that it was offering free WiFi for iPhone users at Starbucks outlets in the United States (where people still have to pay for a regular hit of the Interweb goodness).

The question I want to pose is, “when “freemium” or any kind of free model is used as a competitive differentiator, what happens when quality begins to suffer?”

A lot of people will put up with lousy service if something is free. Look at the free email services like Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail for example. If it wasn’t free, people would switch in droves if the quality suffered.

But let’s look again at the Starbucks example. They have put a lot of emphasis on their free AT&T wireless service in the US as a differentiator. When the equality of AT&T’s service suffers, so does the brand image and customer satisfaction of Starbucks. They have intrinsically linked the services of one company as a key competitive advantage over rivals.  This can be a scary proposition.

As a competitive intelligence practitioner I’d look at this as a strength and a potential weakness. Strength in that Starbucks has a great new service. One that many people would want to use. But a weakness in so far that as Starbucks attracts customers whose satisfaction is predominately driven by the quality of Internet connection, rather than the quality of the product (coffee!).

Here’s an example:

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Imagine as in the case of Starbucks in Singapore that I have no end of choices to where I get my wifi Internet fix. It’s free in most shopping malls. I want to get a coffee AND access to the Internet, but Starbucks is too full for it’s network node.  I have many alternatives and not that much satisfaction. I’m now a switcher. I’m going to head to a smaller coffee lounge, still get access – but without my double-shot caramel vente latte. There’s a real risk of me never coming back.

Another, worse alternative is the one in the US. Same scenario – but if I’m looking for a wireless AT&T hotspot for free there is nowhere else but Starbucks to get it from. If the service is bad and my alternatives are low I am a captive. You know those. Heavily negative. The ones who post on forums and blogs and tell of their terrible experience.

Of course it works the other way. Get great service in any of those two scenarios and you have a contented customer, or an advocate. Someone who will tell friends about their positive experience.

The key thing to remember is that both of these scenarios have nothing to do with Starbucks’ core competency – the coffee.

In our roles, often the areas that are competitive blind spots are those where our company relies on suppliers or partners to create a large degree of the value customers receive. Keep that in mind when you’re next doing your internal appraisals or SWOT analyses. 

Machines of the future. Kill Sarah Conner or kill your job?

terminator_robot

 

 

Some scary reading from NYU interactive telecommunications Professor, Clay Shirky, who was interviewed on io9 a couple of weeks ago on the subject of his new book, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations”.

The premise (and I’ll preface that I am no scholar of social web evolution) is that there is a growing trend towards a model where there is a large community of content creators (think personal video creators) who don’t really get paid for producing this content. Along comes someone who can create a tool to take advantage of that material and create a revenue model around it (think Youtube). You can see a lot of this happening already in a number of social sites:

  • Flickr – built around a community’s photo collection.
  • Napster or Torrents – built around a community’s music and movie collection.
  • Facebook and MySpace – built around a community’s interaction with each other.
  • Linkedin – built around a community’s contacts.

Take this a step further and think about what you do for a living?

CI at its most basic is taking a sample of information on a market or competitor and predicting future decisions or actions that a competitor or industry may make. (I know “good CI” is much more than this, selling the impact/threat or opportunity to people who matter in your company’s decision making process – but I’ll get to that in a second)

So what we do each day is take a bunch of information and make a judgement call on what our competitors might do. This is based on financials, marketing releases, patent awards, domain registration, rumour and a whole host of other inputs.

Like what the Industry Standard is doing.  Here you can effectively “bet” on what the market will do, with a twist. You’re not betting on companies, but rather, betting on predictions.  I’ve been right on Google’s stock price being lower than $500 at the end of Q1. I’ve been right about Salesforce.com not being acquired by the end of Q1. I’ve made a sweet little profit of $15K since I’ve joined. It’s fun and not really serious, however, think about where some of the proposed predictions are coming from? Are they from competitors, disgruntled employees, stakeholders? Now the game gets interesting. What if this engine gathered a large enough community for its predictions to be more often right than wrong?

Much like Shirky’s proposition, basic market knowledge is pretty easy to come by. All it would take would be a mechanism to take advantage of all that free knowledge. We all have feeds and massive sources of information. What we as CI practitioners do is act as the machine. We filter all of that info and come up with the insight needed to make or refine business decisions. As Business Intelligence and predictive software becomes better, our role as a CI professional will become much more centred on how we leverage the available data. More managing the flow of data and looking for leading indicators of changes from the norm or changes that deviate away from what we “expect” to happen. What would be the leading indicators of a competitor tanking in a quarter? What are the leading indicators that a competitor will create a partnership that could impact you? 

The machine of CI is more about the patterns and less about profiles and SWOTs. They are important and help is to explain what we do. The challenge moving forward is how to build up those data flows so you can build your own predictive tools. I’m going to have a crack at it as well and document what happens.

In the meantime focusing on the Three A’s of CI will continue to build up your brand and give you access to more of the data you need to predict the future.

The Three A’s Of Competitive Intelligence – Articulate

Why it’s important:

As I made mention in my previous post, your ability to communicate ideas, advice and action clearly is what separates you (as a CI professional) from any number of people who “create noise”. 

Being able to articulate your ideas form the basis of you progressing your career from an “analyst” to a “trusted advisor”. You can be the most brilliant of analysts, but without the skills to take that analysis and “sell” it, you’re toast.

“Selling” is often seen as a negative thing within CI. If you have the best analysis and the best information, why wouldn’t your senior people want to engage you and use you in the most creative and impactful way as possible? While this is a lofty ideal, the reality is that unless you’re part of a large, respected, well funded CI team – you will need to show your value and influence people who matter.  Selling your research and your services is what this section is really all about. Every time you present your findings is an opportunity to sell your services. Leaving people with a professional, positive impression of you, ensures people remember who to turn to when they have a similar competitive issue.

 

What skills do I value in a CI professional or new hire:

When I think about the skills I want to work hard at honing in my own career, the following four remain at the forefront for me.

  • Presentation skills:  No brainer here. Being able to comfortably stand up in front of a group of 100 sales reps, or a lunch meeting with the CEO. Presenting is not a skill that you’re born with – it can be developed with practice. I should know. I fondly remember presenting a geography oral assignment in year 10 and froze up completely at the 2 minute mark. Got half marks for attempting, but the thing I learnt that day was that knowing your material was not enough to ensure a good presentation. I’ve honed some of those skills, and while no where near perfect, I now feel very little nerves before presenting to crowds, influential individuals or blank walls (radio and TV).
  • Faceless verbal communication: Video killed the radio star, but I bet that if you tallied the methods of presentation you’ve used over the last year, teleconferences or web-conferences probably figure highly. In my role, servicing Asia Pacific, web-conferences make up the overwhelming majority. Now think back to the last teleconference you listened to. Bored? Tuned out? A lot of the impact from a teleconference comes from the speakers ability to communicate effectively without the benefit of visual cues. If this is an method of communication that is important to you, take some time and tune into some BBC World Service radio broadcasts. Listen to the way their presenters use inflection, timing and volume to take the listener on a journey and paint visually what’s being discussed. Much like the Wall Street Journal is the gold standard for your written deliverables, BBC World (for me) is the benchmark to strive towards when presenting without visual cues. 
  • Email and written deliverables: Again, a no brainer. You need clarity in your written deliverable to ensure you effectively get your message across. As I noted above, the Wall Street Journal (in Australia try The Financial Review) is what you’re aiming for. Brevity of words to convey your ideas. This blog bears witness that this trait is not my strongest! Along with the written aspect, the way you brand and layout your analysis can often make interpretation of findings easier and create more impact.
  • Interpersonal skills (organisational agility): This is a skill I’m particularly fond of. This is the “word-of-mouth” aspect of CI. Getting good information and insight means knowing who does what within your company or ecosystem and who you can get reliable information and insight from. CI is often very cross-functional in nature. Supporting multiple lines of business that may not always communicate effectively at all levels. CI can help build these loosely connected relationships. This is particularly valuable when a competitor from one part of the business starts encroaching on another. A good example is within the software industry where consolidation is reducing the number of competitors, but increasing the fronts where these competitors compete.

 

How do you stay fresh:

  • Get trained:  If you see an opportunity to take presentation skills training, sales training, press spokesperson training – jump at it. Can’t stress it enough. Practicing new skills in a relatively stress-free environment can help you move from competent to compelling.
  • Practice: And then practice some more. Whether it’s listening to the BBC, practicing the opening 10 minutes of a presentation or making usable notes that can help you guide listeners on a web-conference. All practice helps. If you’re part of a team a great idea is a buddy system to help critique and mentor each other become the best presenters, writers and communicators you can be.
  • Some great blogs: Here are some of my favourite presentation & writing related blogs.
    • Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen as well as his personal blog that has lots of great tips on creating powerful presentations.
    • Legendary presenter Guy Kawasaki, not only has some great examples of his own speeches and presentations, but also great insight into technology marketing.
    • The Extreme Presentation Blog. Good, technical advice on how to structure messaging and presentations.
    • Marc Andreessen’s blog. Marc’s style is free flowing and a great example of how to take a reader on a journey and come out the other side having learnt something.
  • Some great books: Some more food for thought.
    • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte. How I wish this book was required reading while I was at university doing statistics. Tufte is the godfather of presenting complex data in the clearest way possible.
    • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.  If you have to write email or reports for your CI role, this is THE book on writing. Sits on my desk for reference and I still use it after my first manager at Gartner put me onto this.

The Three A’s Of Competitive Intelligence – Analysis

Why it’s important

Well this is a no-brainer, but at the end of the day, you’re being employed because of your ability to turn data into insight. We’ve all seen that pyramid that shows insight at the top, information in the middle and data on the bottom, right?  well everyone wants to be operating at the top. This is a noble goal to aim for as this is where true value is provided.  The issue I find is that people want to “skip” the Data and Information stages and rely solely on past experience or gut-feel and pass it off as insight. 

Of course, when you’re an industry expert you can make these types of judgement calls, but experts tend to “refresh” their understanding of the data at hand and are usually gathering more and more information to challenge their current thinking.

Relying too long on “industry knowledge” results in bias of analysis and can lead to making erroneous recommendations that are clouded in a world-view – rather than being made on the available information. 

This is why analysis – the method of turning data and information into insight is so important. 

 

What tools are commonly misused

  • SWOT Analysis:  I like SWOT analysis, I just feel that like network news, it is often a reflection of speculation and opinion. Rarely is it used in a strategic manner and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked for a SWOT to bang into a presentation or planning slide – as a representation of a competitive strategy – I’d be a very rich man.  Visit Manager Tools and listen to their podcasts on SWOT analysis. It’s a great listen and makes you think again about what a SWOT should be used for and what it is not.
  • Gartner Magic Quadrants: From the Technology and IT world, these are some of the most misused pieces of analysis out there. This is more so the way companies misrepresent, or under-represent themselves as a result of one of these quadrants. For those who have not seen one, you can read up on them here.  For those who have, the number of times I’ve seen companies state that, because they are further into the “Leaders” quadrant, they are a better company or option to customers. While this is a fair statement, for competitive analysis this can often be incorrect. Just because a company or offering is “niche” (lower ability to execute and lower levels of vision) does not mean they aren’t the best choice for a customer. It might be that they operate in only a small number of countries, or industries. But where they do operate they are the best choice. My advice is that if any IT vendor is on a Gartner MQ – it is because customers derive value from that solution. Always keep that in mind.

 

What tools do I like

  • Gap Analysis: Gap Analysis helps you to understand where you are and where your competitor are on a series of pre-determined business metrics. The great thing about Gap analysis is that it can give you a very clear picture of where your company may be leading or where it may be lagging with respect to the metrics that are important to your business.  Such examples may include things outside of market-share or revenue. These include industry related KPI’s, customer satisfaction, size and value of communities, brand awareness, etc.  Gap Analysis is a great way to identify the areas you need to focus on or new avenues to attack your competitors on. One such example is the way Virgin America has shifted the focus on competition in the American domestic airline market to customer satisfaction and experience – rather than cost.
  • Porter’s Five Forces: This is the tool that is taught in every university and business school, but when was the last time you used this in your day-to-day analysis of competitors? I find Five Forces useful for assessing Competitors ability to enter into new markets as well as looking at the level of business risk, outside of regular substitute competitors, that may need to be addressed. This is particularly the case in Asia Pacific where so much business flows through a value chain – in Enterprise Software that includes the Channel – ISV’s, Resellers and Systems Integrators. I like this tool as it can focus competitive differentiation outside of the product itself and more onto how that product is operated or consumed by a customer.
  • Focus Groups: Expensive, but so very useful in identifying latent issues or future trends that can be actioned upon or used to greater effect against the competition. If you sell your product primarily through a 3rd party sales channel, these focus groups are a fantastic way to gather information you may not be receiving through your partners.
  • Win-Loss Analysis: I’ve talked about Win-Loss a number of times. I’m a huge fan of measuring the actual reasons why deals are won or lost. In the consumer world this is done through larger primary research tools. In the Enterprise Software, Hardware and Services market this can be done effectively through one-to one or one-to-a-few interviews.  For the final word on Win-Loss and how they can be used to add instant value, take some time to visit Primary Intelligence or subscribe to Christopher Dalley’s blog.

 

How do you stay fresh?

  • Test out new analysis techniques and see what results or insight you can drive out of them.
  • Use new techniques as brainstorming sessions within your CI group.
  • Visit SCIP and look at their publication list. Go out and read some of these books – frankly there is a wealth of knowledge.
  • Have a look at some of the financial analysis tools being used by analysts in the Finance and VC space. There are plenty of books available that can help you discover new ways of getting an understanding of your competitors.
  • Talk amongst your peers in the CI space. I’d be happy to discuss and share analysis techniques with anyone who has any questions or experiences.