- Primary research
- Secondary research
Before one can analyze information and adjust company strategy accordingly, one must gather data to analyze. Online resources have made gathering a certain level of information on competitors and industry very easy and inexpensive; indeed many sources of published information are available on the internet. Gathering published information is the most commonly used competitive intelligence (CI) method. Because of the abundance of published information available online, care must be taken to be selective and collect only relevant, valuable, and necessary information. Valuable sources of published information include the various directories of companies, associations, and periodicals, government sources, and external online databases. Companies’ annual reports, analyst reports, and SEC filings also contain useful info. Given the abundance of resources easily available, organizations should guard against a more = better mentality, as this can lead to wasted effort. Prior to data gathering, CI professionals should plan carefully and determine exactly what needs to be found.
However, since the goal of CI is to gain a competitive advantage, relying on information available in the public domain, the low hanging fruit of intelligence, should be merely a CI operation’s first stop rather than the final destination. Since it is so easy to gather material online, the information gleaned there is unlikely to lead to unique insights unavailable to other companies. This risk applies to all publicly available and published information, which also runs the hazard of containing incorrect or misleading information. Therefore, CI researchers must be wary of relying on these sources. Collected information should be verified and compared to other sources to ensure reliability. Inaccurate information can skew observations and lead to erroneous conclusions. Everyone involved in the gathering process should know what is needed and what the goal is.
Consequently, though the internet is a first stop in information gathering, CI professionals typically spend more time and effort gathering information using primary research, such as speaking with one’s own employees, customers, and suppliers or networking with outside industry experts. Many companies contain vast untapped CI resources that are unknown or at least underutilized. One way to take stock of the internal information available is through an information workshop. These informal exchanges bring representatives from throughout the company together and allow them to share intelligence that can be consolidated and distributed throughout an organization. Going through this process frequently reveals that a given company has much more information than previously known, and that the knowledge gaps are relatively small.