Starving for information, drowning in data
In an ever changing business world, with events taking place at accelerated rates, augmented by increasing global connectivity- it is easy to feel overwhelmed and under-informed.
As a business executive your goal is to acquire as much competitive intelligence as possible: accurate, relevant, timely information to assist your decision making. In fact most bad decisions don’ t result from a lack of judgment, rather from partial information. As such we tend to consume information wherever we can to stay updated and also employ competitive information departments to help us achieve this. However, much to our frustration, our information provision methods don’t always deliver.
During my many years as a senior executive in competitive intelligence businesses I have seen this time and again. We miss opportunities or don’t get them in the relevant time frame to act. This especially hurts if the information was out there in the public space, but just didn’t reach us. Naturally we turn to our understaffed competitive departments in frustration, but they too are in over their heads trying to make heads or tails of all this info abundance, or worse – they actually did circulate the required piece of information, but no one noticed.
If this sounds all to familiar to you, don’t fret – you are in good company. If you think modern big-data tools should have already solved this problem – your are partially right, and also in good company. But as I found out the hard way – being aware to information in order to act upon it as needed – requires more than tools. It requires a work philosophy, methodology, and yes, eventually.. tools. Only if we put all these organisational and methodological pieces of the puzzle in place, will we know which tools we actually need.
Acquiring actionable intelligence in an organization requires a triad of philosophy, methodology and tools. No part of the triad can function alone. the only time these parts are on their own is in the hindsight blame game….
Business Situational Awareness
Competitive organizations need to acknowledge that getting actionable info is not a uni directional process, rather this is something that has to be organically infused into the corporation. The best description is that the organization has to be aware of its business environment, or the creation of what fighter pilots have coined in the past as “Situational Awareness“. Business Situational Awareness is the state of being aware of accurate, relevant and timely information, but also deals with how this information is disseminated, shared and absorbed.
Situational Awareness : ‘The perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future’ (Endsley, 1987).
CI is a subset of Business Intelligence (BI), providing balanced picture of the environment to the decision makers. It concerns the collecting and analyzing of the information about the behaviors of the various markets’ actors in order to make certain decisions based on market trends. This type of information is mainly semi-structured or unstructured nature- in contrast to the well-structured information used in BI. It turns out that many previous information tools used to build BI are insufficient and adequate for CI.
The competitive intelligence cycle needs to create enterprise knowledge based on external information. The knowledge is required for taking informed and correct decisions. This knowledge subsides inside the heads of the corporate or company actors. Assuming that they are capable and competent, they need accurate, timely, relevant and reliable information to perform this task. Information is constantly changing and evolving on a daily basis. If in the past information could be updated on a monthly or weekly basis, this is not enough today. Today information has to be updated constantly as the rate of global events has increased dramatically due to technology and connectivity. News has a lifespan of a few days at the most.
So the corporate needs to adapt for these speeds. Unfortunately using manual tools will not be enough. Because there is a plethora of endless news being generated from all over the globe, an automatic tool is needed. Most people will think at this stage that this is all great but our acquaintance with automatic tools is that a lot of unneeded info is also generated in the process and it is hard to separate the grain from the wheat. That is true. But the fact that it is hard does not mean that it is not possible. In the pilot world of warning systems for example – you need a warning system that will give you all the relevant alerts, and suppress the non-relevant ones or false alarms. If you have to many false alarms – you will end up turning the system off. So in essence, we need a system that will provide us the necessary alarms and not the non-relevant ones. Both a system which doesn’t give you the important alarms, and those which do but immerse and lose them in irrelevant ones are useless. So the issue comes to be finding the fine area of tolerance of information relevance. I purposely say area and not line of relevance because these area has a very important role in competitive intelligence. Since we are dealing with unstructured heuristic data – there is no single and constant line. The area of relevance is a bell curve in which some data from the previously considered irrelevant data can quickly and swiftly enter the realm relevant data area. This is the dynamic nature of the business world and how corporates need to adjust and shift strategies in order to thrive. An automated system – based on dynamic ontologies, Natural Language Process (NLP) can provide this information to the corporate. The automated tool has some more very important advantages: (1) it can slice information to every position in the organization based on the breadth, depth and rate needed up to all practicle numbers (2) it can cover huge amounts of data. The main premise is that you cannot knw everything, but you cannot afford not to know information in your area of responsibility which was openly published.
One of the major consideration in creating this awareness is how to consume information. I can share my experience with based on many years in a global tech leader. The following point essentially constitute the methodology derived from the “Situational Awareness” concept or philosophy. I have witnessed their successful implementation several times:
- Update frequency – daily. With the rate events are unfolding globally a daily update would be the best trade-off between change and personal attention
- Quantity- no more than 10-20 different items of information. Although it may be compelling to send as much info as possible, it is extremely important to prioritize.
- Recipients – this is the important part: as many as possible. from within your executives – marketers, BD, M&A, project managers, senoir managers. This is needed to fuel a dialogue that has to take place within the organisation.
- No “one-size-fits-all” info – perhaps the biggest mistake a CI department can do, Each recipient should recieve tailored and personally adapted information
Regarding the tools to achieve this feat, which are an important part of the triad, i will be ellaboratin in a future post.
*for more information regarding the organizational aspects or reccomended tools please contact Grant Evrtson or reach him through our site.