posted 15 Nov 2000 in Volume 4 Issue 3
Book Review: Competitive Intelligence
Title: Competitive Intelligence
Authors: Michelle Cook & Curtis Cook
Publisher: Kogan Page Ltd, 2000
Competitive intelligence (CI) is rapidly emerging as one of the killer applications of knowledge management. In this book, the authors seek to offer a practical approach to cultivating CI activity in organisations. They base the book on their extensive experience in their Canadian CI consultancy practice. There are many gems throughout, which are clearly grounded in experience, but unfortunately its structure hides them well. The book suffers an identity crisis. Is it an introductory textbook for the new practitioner, or a management text intended to guide the implementation of a new CI capability in an organisation? There is a need for both in the CI world today, but Competitive Intelligence doesn’t quite hit either mark.
Traditionally, CI has been an art or craft practised by seasoned analysts skilled in building detailed pictures of the competition from scant information. Over the years some good heuristics have developed to guide this type of intelligence work. Chapter 1 covers these through an overview of the “dozen myths about competitive intelligence”. This is a very useful management introduction, but could have been expanded significantly or worked up as a theme for a whole section. Chapter 2 is equally useful in laying out the structure of a good intelligence project in ten phases, with useful guidelines about how much effort should be expended in each phase. Chapter 2 hovers between being a management introduction to the structure of CI projects and an introductory textbook. There is too much detail for the manager and not enough for the new practitioner.
Chapter 3 looks at finding the information you need. Unfortunately, it mixes sources and techniques in a way that loses the structure that was clearer in the first two chapters. There are some gems here in discussions on interviewing leads and working trade shows for intelligence. These techniques deserve chapters on their own. The rest of chapter 3 is devoted to types of information you might need, overlapping significantly with chapter 4, which covers the sources of this information. Chapter 4 quickly descends into lists of international organisations that might be useful sources, together with their addresses and phone numbers. This type of material should be in an appendix or, better still, a living website to accompany the book. For the practitioner, an up-to-date comprehensive directory of this kind would be invaluable.
Chapter 5 attempts the impossible in trying to catalogue online sources. Clearly this is intended for the practitioner and contains some sources that are invaluable, but otherwise buried on the web where most would not find them. However, the way in which this information is structured doesn’t work well and highlights why the paper medium is not good for such directories. Finding a specific entry is hard and no account is taken of the fact that sources might be relevant to two sections. I am concerned that the web addresses of this chapter will be quickly out of date and, again, an accompanying website would be a better home for this material. Buried in this chapter is some excellent advice on generic Internet research strategies. Expanding this would have made the book a more valuable introduction for the practitioner.
Chapter 6 looks at turning the information acquired into intelligence. Here, again, the book seems to have mixed its target audience. At the one end, it covers macro strategic analysis considering political, social and economic forces. This would normally be the preserve of a senior strategist or senior manager in a company. At the other end, micro analysis of company ratios is covered in detail over several pages as a diagnostic tool for considering individual companies. Contrast this with the scant attention given to patent analysis – vital for technical intelligence work. Buried in this chapter are Leonard Fuld’s guidelines on intelligence mapping. This is an excellent reference, but could usefully have been expanded and put alongside references and explanations of other more technical analysis tools.
After the detail of earlier sections, chapters 7, 8 and 9 cover just 10 pages each. Benchmarking is previewed earlier in the book as an important technique worthy of detailed consideration in its own chapter, but chapter 7 doesn’t live up to this. Chapter 8 looks at how findings should be presented and used. This is also far too generic and lacks the basic guidelines on how reports and presentations should be structured for impact. Chapter 9, on technology, tools and techniques for CI, should be a book on its own right given the expenditure by most companies in this area. Certainly it is where KM techniques can add most value in dealing with information overload and complexity. Managers and novices alike waste much money in this area and guidelines to avoid this would be useful.
Chapters 10 and 11, on legal, ethical and global considerations are excellent, but really belonged in the missing management overview section of the book. Chapter 12, on setting up a CI function, is also a management function, as is chapter 13, on counter intelligence measures. The guidelines here again fall between the two audiences.
Chapter 14 is a series of case studies presented at the level of a management overview. These could have been expanded in great detail for novice and would have been really valuable to pull together the tools and techniques from the book.
Given the international reputation and experience of the authors, I was disappointed that this book didn’t meet its early promise. I am sure that they have the necessary material and their editors should have helped them expand and structure it more effectively to improve the book’s impact.
Adrian Dale is head of knowledge management at Creatifica Associates. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org