Special Report: Competitive Intelligence Program at 2014 Special Libraries Association Annual Conference

By , June 30, 2014 1:26 pm
by Robyn Hagle

At the beginning of June, I attended a special program on Competitive Intelligence at SLA in Vancouver.  The speaker was CI pro, Zena Applebaum.  Zena’s goal was to empower the librarians and information professionals in the audience to “draw your own conclusions.”  Librarians who don’t regularly do CI as part of their jobs typically stop at step 2 in the CI cycle (below).  It’s time we started closing the loop.  Our end goal when we do CI should be to mobilize the end user so that they are decision-ready.


The CI Cycle:
1.  Planning & Direction – Talk to the decision makers in your organization and find out what keeps them up at night.  Turn their needs into topics you can research and analyze.  Use the “reference interview” to get at what they want to know.  Turn those things into key intelligence questions.

2.  Secondary Research – Ah, the bread and butter of the librarian.  We all know where to look for information.  As previously mentioned, this is usually where we stop.  Perhaps the biggest issue with stopping here, besides that it won’t make you a respectable CI professional, is that everyone has access to the same information.  In order to be successful at CI, you have to do something different with the information.  Cast the widest net, but use what you find in a different way.  Draw your own conclusions!

3.  Human Intelligence Collection – This refers to the information you won’t find in a database and isn’t searchable because it’s what humans know and share.  In order to be good at this step, you have to know who to talk to.  Who within your organization knows something about the topic you’re researching?  Talk to that person. Ask that person who you should talk to next.  Furthermore, make connections for people and get them talking to one another.  If you choose to talk with primary sources (i.e. people) outside your organization, it would be wise to consider HOW you talk to them.  Elicitation (versus traditional Q&A) will yield better intelligence.  This is a whole other topic!

4.  Analysis – Possibly the most important part in the CI cycle.  You have to analyze the data you find.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this is choosing which form of analysis to use.  Zena recommended a book called, “Analysis without Paralysis” which looks at 12 different analyses frameworks.   If analysis scares you, think of it like this:

  • SWOT is analysis
  • A list of pros/cons is analysis
  • Using your judgment is analysis

Start small.  Work a single “everyday” business question through this cycle, then do it again with another.  Analysis takes practice.

5.  Report & Reform – What form will your work take when you present it to the decision-maker?  How will you communicate what you learned and make sure the end user is decision-ready?  A couple of things you should definitely include in the final report:

1.  Recommendations – hopefully you learned enough during this cycle to draw your own conclusions and make a recommendation.  Don’t leave your end user asking “so what?” about what you presented.  They will draw their own conclusions as well, but offering your recommendations clearly sends the message that you understand the needs and issues at hand

2.  Additional Resources available upon request – this is the data dump you DON’T include in the report but are willing to make available to anyone who wants to see the source documents

Zena considers this step the “soft skills” of CI.  It’s important how you package your work and communicate it within your organization.  If you do it the right way, you will have repeat customers.  (Analysis is the “hard skills” of CI.)

As Zena pointed out, CI is the currency law firm departments are currently fighting over. I mean, have you read the following articles!?

Let’s step up and make sure the leaders in our organizations know that we are capable CI professionals.  The future of law librarianship requires us to be “big picture” people.  This is a highly visible way to add value!  Good luck!

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