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.


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.


Is CI a generalist or specialist role?

“Mile wide and an inch deep” is something that I catch myself saying more times than I care to admit. It stems from the fact that I believe I know a little about most competitors in my market (enough to be dangerous) but not absolutely everything about their technical or business strategies.

Would I call myself a generalist though? In the harsh light of day, I would have to admit – in the realm of CI, I am a generalist. I cover multiple markets, multiple types of analysis and tend to be a jack of all trades. I pride myself in being able to jump into a new technology market or competitor and come up with insight. However, in the realm of marketing, I’m a specialist. The mile wide and inch deep argument is a little like an iceberg. While I may be covering a large number of competitors, touching and interacting with several business groups and stakeholders, at the core I bring specialized CI skills to the table. Here’s a very top-line explanation of what I mean.


There’s a lot of arguments for and against being a generalist and I’m none the wiser as to what’s the best positioning for a CI professional. Two interesting takes on the argument come from Pras Sarkar, from Yahoo! Research and Seth Godin

Five key tips on being a brilliant generalist according to Pras:

  1. Stay up-to-date with your area of generalization
  2. Know what to explore and what to ignore
  3. Be critical of new technologies
  4. Visualize the results of all new pursuits and endeavors
  5. Don’t over-generalize

While Seth swings the opposite way, stating:

“When choice is limited, I want a generalist. When selection is difficult, a jack of all trades is just fine. But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist.”

I tend to side with Seth on this in my case. Proactively positioning myself as a CI Specialist, rather than a generalist. Regardless of what the mile wide part is, the deeper value is the core CI principles, techniques and skills I can bring to a discussion or team. However, Pras’ advice makes a lot of sense for the “mile wide” portion. Using his framework to assess and sanity check what competitors and what markets I need to keep in my periphery.

So how do you position yourself?


Doing CI in Asia – Potential pitfalls


I stumbled upon a fantastic excerpt from Ruth Stanat’s article "Global CI Blue Print" which was originally published in the Competitive Intelligence Magazine by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP).  (Which reminds me I really need to update my membership. The CI magazine is very focused and always contains one or two gems that you can immediately explore in your own role).

Ruth has listed a series of pitfalls that researchers fall into in emerging markets, as well as their root causes. IT’s a great list and so I’m going to put my Asia CI hat on and add a few more examples of my own. What I found important to take away is that CI information sources should be viewed and assessed in the context of the market as a whole. Gauging biases, latency and accuracy is crucial in building up a cleaner, better market and competitor assessment.





Pitfall Root Cause Some examples I’ve seen

Forgetting Demographics

Considering country homogeneous e.g. ignoring religious diversity Religious diversity aside, age composition between Asian nations differs wildly – even in the developing markets.
Useless Fact-Finding Trips Ineffective trips with little endings e.g. meetings in hotel, no exploration Gee.. I’m going to look a bit bashful here. While no trip starts out with the intention of being useless – there is ample opportunity for this to occur. Definitely food for thought for an upcoming post!
Information at Face-Value Differing data on competitor e.g. company has 3 sets of financial data Always, always check the sources of your financial or market data. This is even more critical when you consider the bias that might be involved. For example country statistics gathered by Governments. Not all government organizations or institutions are driven by accuracy.

Accounting practices differ wildly between Asian nations. Be very aware of taxation, capital gains and the way profits are managed.

Market Overestimation Overly optimistic projections e.g. product’s adoption rate This is a hobby horse of mine. Over and underestimation aside, look at who is gathering the data, how they gather it and how many people they have gathering this information. In the Technology sector the number of Analysts that various research firms have in-country differs wildly.
Dated Research Market intelligence at one time e.g. ignoring new economic factors Getting out to users within Asia can be difficult. Phone interviews often wont be effective (lots of people on mobiles, rather than land lines) and face-to-face is time consuming. For this reason studies can often be a static point in time once a year, or once every two years. In your market, how quickly does the landscape change?
Myopic CI Focus Focusing only on competition e.g. neglecting political environment I’m guilty of this one in particular. The coup in Thailand in 2006 shut down government spending (and consumer confidence) for a couple of quarters. This effected all Tech companies, not just the one that I worked for at the time.
And now a couple of my own..    
Pitfall Root Cause Some examples I’ve seen
Differing Maturity Rates Thinking that each emerging market will grow or behave like one another A slight spin on Ruth’s pitfall on demographics but a little more skewed for technology companies. Asian nations develop at differing paces and because of differing reasons. Indonesia’s wild growth is as much to do with consumer spending and stable government as it is to do with under penetration. But Indonesia’s growth is much different in scope and pace to the way Thailand or Vietnam is emerging.
Who is the real decision maker? Thinking that the end-user or the “usual suspect” is the key decision maker. Particularly in larger enterprise technology deals, Partners play a huge part in who is successful in a bid. In addition, cronyism is rife in several nations making a purchasing decision a very complex roadmap. Often the best product or solution is not the one picked. Don’t just rely on the strength of your products and services. 
Public Holidays Thinking that you will have a lot of time to do things or that business will operate to the same schedule as Europe or North America. At Chinese New Year, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore shut down for anywhere from three days to a week. Muslim majority countries have Ramadan festivities and so on. The number of times I’ve talked to people in non-Asian countries that they wont get any work done out of China for two whole weeks of the year (Golden Week) amazes me.
Questionable Ethics Believing that research and CI providers are operating to worldwide norms. Be vary aware that the same ethical laws and obligations do not bind smaller operators here. You expose yourself and your company to ethical or public relations disasters so be careful and diligent how you select and manage local research providers.
Focusing only on known competitors Taking the belief that your competitors will be the same ones you go up against in your traditional market. Smaller companies that offer unique language, process or price points can often steal market share and revenue away while you’re focusing on your traditional competitors.