I interviewed Nanette Bulger who discussed Basics of Integrated Intelligence, Putting the Pieces Together.
It’s nice to speak with you today, Nan, and I’m looking forward to hearing your views today on the topic of the basics of integrated intelligence, putting the pieces together. Before we start, can you provide a brief background of yourself?
Sure. First of all, thank you very much for interviewing me today, Dustin; I appreciate the time. I’ve been in business for about 38 years. I started my career as a new-product-development engineer. I spent about 10 years, and that went on to strategy; served as a vice president of strategy for various companies. Then went into a consultant competitive-intelligence role, where I served a global role there. Then went back to strategy for a while with health care and in the defense industry. To make a long story short, I now run The Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals Association, which is a nonprofit global organization focused on building skill sets and strategy and competitive intelligence.
Thank you. Can we start by providing a definition, or can you explain what competitive intelligence is?
Competitive intelligence is actually the supporting decision support for companies to really help understand their markets, understand the market dynamics, the competitive environment, and to help them make decisions to give them a competitive advantage in the market. Competitive intelligence isn’t just collecting data; maybe 20, 30 years ago, it was about the collection and expertise in collecting information, but now it’s really evolved into sophisticated decision support and analytics. It involves looking at competition, market environment, market sizing, and so forth and really helps people understand how best to compete in a market.
And how has competitive intelligence evolved?
First, I should say that SCIP is actually going to celebrate its 30th year this year, so it’s been around for 30 years in business. It’s evolved out of intelligence that’s been used for, really, centuries to strategies both in military environments and politics and so forth. Basically, in the beginning, about 30 years ago, competitive intelligence focused primarily on the competitor, really putting that competitor focus at the center of your decisions and understanding the competitive landscape, understanding what competitors were doing to compete, collecting data about competitors in the form of human-source collection, as well as secondary or printed-source collection.
Now, today, it’s really evolved into understanding not just competitors, but really putting the customer at the center of the intelligence you collect so you can determine how best to help your customers compete in the market and help your customers make money and looking at how there’s a competitive effect from the competitors, how the political environment affects decisions that customers make, how the market dynamics affect the customer, and so forth. It’s really evolved into a more sophisticated discipline, where it’s not so much about collecting data anymore, but it’s about conducting sophisticated analytics so that you can help your company make decisions about the market in order to help their customers.
What are the basic aspects that make up competitive intelligence today?
I mentioned it a little bit. When you’re looking at a business environment today, it’s much more sophisticated than it was 30 years ago, simply because we’re a global environment. It isn’t enough to look at one particular region of the globe and understand the landscape there, because the landscape changes depending on where you are in the world or on the planet.
Basically, you have to build an environment to understand various global situations. In other words, competitive intelligence, if you really look at it in terms of a spoked wheel, you do have economic intelligence. That really helps you understand regulatory environments for different governments and different political situations regionally. You have different market dynamics depending on what region you are in, which includes the demographics and things like that. You have different things that are going on business-intelligence-wise, which is really collecting information on the size of the markets in various areas. You have competitive situations that are different depending on what part of the globe you’re in.
These are all the aspects of intelligence, so you have that competitor intelligence, that market intelligence, the economic intelligence that you collect, the business information, business intelligence you collect, and also the customer insights, really understanding customer intelligence and customer insights. All of these things can be very, very different if I’m here in the U.S. or I’m in South Africa or I’m in the Middle East or I’m in Europe. It’s very important to understand all of these aspects of the business environment that surround your customer and your customers’ buying pattern on a regional basis. That’s why competitive intelligence has really become a more sophisticated discipline.
How does it help you compete in the marketplace?
Basically, if you can understand your customers, the customers of today—I speak of the customers of today and also the customers of the future. If you can understand what’s motivating your customers today and how you can help them as a company or organization, make money in their business, or to get the products and services they really want and need, that’s going to help you compete.
Those customers change based on several different things. They change based on the environment you’re in, because cultures are very different, economic situations are very different, so it’s understanding that. it also really helps you compete because you can understand the way the dynamics are moving in market so you can really determine who your customers of the future are going to be. Your customers today may not be your customers of tomorrow.
It really gives you two advantages. It helps to educate you as an organization about the environment in which you’re working who those customers of today are, what motivates them to do business with you or to work with you, and then to help you identify what technologies and products or services and so forth that they’re going to want in the future, what motivates those customers of the future. That’s where you see a lot of technology development, that’s where you see the game changers and things like that happening.
Another thing that really affects you as well is, over time, there’s been an increase in data sources and the sophistication of available information. That’s really also changed the way we operate as competitive-intelligence professionals, because we have a lot of data, and we really have to synthesize it in order to make these sophisticated decisions on a global basis for each region.
And the title of today’s talk is “Integrated Intelligence.” We haven’t gone into that much. What does integrated intelligence mean? Can you provide a quick overview of that?
Sure. Integrated intelligence is really…we touched on it a bit. I spoke about how, originally, we looked at competitors. Now what we’ve done is actually integrated skill sets into the intelligence discipline. When I’m looking at an economic situation, I have a certain skill set that I need in order to understand economics and political situations in a regulatory environment. When I’m looking at competitor intelligence and market intelligence, I need a skill set that really enables me to understand marketing, understand how to segment markets, understand how to build a competitive landscape, and understand competitors.
When I look at customer insights, we’ve often siloed market research and customer insight separate from intelligence. Today we want to bring that together so we understand not only competitors, as I said before, markets, but really synthesize that with the information we have about customers. And then, of course, pulling in the other aspects like competitive technical intelligence, where I understand white space and adjacencies and products of the future.
All of these different types of intelligence require you to have specific skill sets that you bring together. It’s the integration of those pieces of intelligence and the integration of those skills. The integrated-intelligence professional of today is a very sophisticated strategist and analyst because they have those skills sets and they know how to fuse those skill sets together.
That’s one piece of integrated intelligence. Another piece of integrated intelligence, which we can talk about in a separate interview, is really integrating what you do as an integrated-intelligence professional with other disciplines in the company. I want to have skills as an intelligence professional so I can interface with the finance people, as an example, or the supply chain people, so they work with me to help develop the decision support that’s really needed by the company. We’ll cover that. That’s really integrating with other disciplines.
A third aspect is really integrating this decision support that you get by understanding these various pieces into the planning cycle within a company. We’ll talk about in another interview how we actually take the skills we have and build the touch points for intelligence decision support into each piece of the planning cycle within a company. Those are really the big pieces of integrated intelligence and how you pull it together and you really build early warning to help your company make decisions about how to really be competitive in a market.
Thank you. This is a really interesting topic, and I’d like to do further interviews so we can go into more depth on the points you mentioned about integrated intelligence.
Yes; it’s a very sophisticated process. It’s grown, as I said, over the past 30 years. It’s become much more sophisticated and mature. It’s metamorphosed and, really, with the challenges of globalization and available information and really pulling together the most important pieces of information and supporting decision support, it has become quite sophisticated. I very much look forward to breaking down each piece of it and helping people to understand that, because it’s an exciting field, it’s a great place to build your skills, and it’s really needed by companies around the world.
Thanks. I look forward to talking to you soon.
Thank you very much, Dustin, for the time, and I look forward to it as well.
About Nanette Bulger
CEO, Thought Leader, Change Agent, CI, MI, Strategist, Prod. Dev. Engineer, Profit, Non-Profit
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