Does competitive intelligence deliver? More CEOs want to know

Once the stuff of cloak-and-dagger ops, competitive intelligence has emerged from the shadows and is now highly visible in many organizations.

Competitive intelligence, long the activity of analysts and sleuths working behind the scenes, have suddenly become quite visible, as organizations across the globe ramp up efforts to better understand their markets.

Photo credit: Joe McKendrick

That's the gist of a recent study conducted by Fuld & Company, which shows that budgets are increasing for this capability. There has even been a surge in big-budget competitive intelligence funding, Fuld finds.

Perhaps the growth and increasing role of big data analytics is also surfacing new drives to beef up competitive intelligence budgets. The cloak-and-dagger days of competitive intelligence are over -- it is now seen as a technology and data-enabled process to better understand and respond to a fast-changing business environment.

The Fuld study's authors define "competitive intelligence" as a function that "serves to track and analyze the competition, provide early warning to management, as well as report to management on both opportunities and threats, both tactical and strategic." This is in line with the goals of many of today's efforts to compete on analytics, using data feeds from a variety of internal and external sources to build a picture of what is happening and what is about to happen.

In Asia and in Europe, companies with intelligence budgets of more than $2 million or more did not exist five years ago but today represent about two to three percent of all intelligence budgets. In North America, programs that spend more than $1million dollars increased from approximately five percent of all corporate intelligence program budgets to nearly 10 percent of all budgets this year.

In addition, C-level executives are getting more personally interested in such programs. The study finds that 20% of these programs report directly to the chief executive’s office, up from 15% five years ago.

Most major industries have ramped up their competitive intelligence gathering with the exception of one area -- pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Even with a slight fall off in investment, this sector still represented more than a quarter (27%) of all intelligence efforts spending more than $2 million per year, the largest of any industry, Fuld reports.

Technology and telecom firms also came on strong in the study. The Fuld report indicates that "this group has quietly shifted from investing almost nothing five years ago to increasing their spending in all budget brackets. For example, five years ago 70% tech/telecom firms spent less than $100,000 on tracking competition. Today that number is nearly down to 56% with much of that difference moved to the super intelligence investment of one-million dollars or higher."

The Fuld study covers the competitive intelligence activities of larger corporations. But in today's era of big data and cloud, competitive intelligence doesn't have to be a million-dollar budget affair, either. Smaller organizations can now leverage data resources and inexpensive online tools to decipher changes in their markets.

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