Best Practices in Competitive Technical Intelligence – CTI

I am writing a chapter for the Competitive Intelligence Foundation’s upcoming book, Competitive Technical Intelligence. CTI seeks to identify competitor’s R&D strategy and innovation pipeline to identify the next generation of threats in the marketplace. CTI typically includes the analysis of patents, scientific publications, new sources, open innovation needs, and other technological, engineering or scientific sources. It focuses on identifying technological trends, opportunities and threats, and how these relate to competitors’ business strategies. In the spirit of cooperation, here’s a sneak preview from my chapter, a summary of interviews with CTI experts on “What are best practices for competitive technical intelligence?”

technical-intelligence-science-croppedBest in class companies hire a person with the right education and experience to converse knowledgeably with scientists, engineers and business people.  They have the ability to manage relationships across all the company’s functions and with all levels of management.

Other desirable traits include:
– Translate science and concepts into business and marketing terms
– Leave one’s ego aside and work towards the company’s goals
– Have a reputation for seeking win/win outcomes
– Hold sources and information confidentially
– Have the ability to sit in the other guy’s chair whether interviewing or communicating deliverables to various CTI customers
– Be responsive to customers: make sure that KITs (key intelligence topics) you agreed upon are still valid
– Anticipate customer’s needs before they ask
– Work with the competitive intelligence managers and the business side

Organizations that are best in class have senior management who recognize the need for CTI. These executives provide the CTI analyst with relevant insight based on their relationships with industry C-levels.  The CTI staff provides data and analysis to support key executive decisions.

Best in class companies consider primary intelligence gathering a key practice. While technology has made great strides for information collection and organization, people are still needed, since critical thinking is absent strictly using technology. People who conduct R&D are experts in their field and have extensive networks. Tap into individual networks and get access to intra-company networks, company to government R&D organizations, and company to company networks (from conferences and presentations.) Another way to think about this is that everyone has access to published data. Your competitive advantage comes fromasking experts lots of questions and continuing the dialog regularly.

Successful organizations systematically track patents and other scientific or technical developments to identify technologies which might change the marketplace. They have invested in sophisticated database technology which not only collects competitor data, but also classifies it into relevant categories and in some cases maps it out.  This level of sophistication allows the CTI manager to spend more time analyzing the data and meeting with people.  Best in class firms also track changes in consumer attitude and behaviors which could be precursors to new technology acceptance.

Excellent companies support their CTI network with a relational database which links CTI analysts in multiple applications areas across the company.  The CTI team clearly communicates a project criteria list that everyone can understand, since CTI is not on the list of standard departments within a company.

Best in class companies systematically map technology from the earliest research phase all the way through product launch.  So much technology never reaches product launch. They opportunistically identify where and why it stopped in development.  For example, they might acquire the company that was behind the research phase to gain a competitive advantage in product development.

Lastly best in class companies have quality control around CTI deliverables.  Data is validated. One practice is to conduct team analysis before creating the deliverable.  The team would consist of marketing, sales, technical services application development, R&D, who all bring their different points of view of how they perceive information, also their different history.  In this way you don’t jump to conclusions and don’t decide too quickly.

The CTI book will be coming out at SCIP’s annual conference held in Chicago from April 21 – 24. In the meantime, here are two great books on CTI:

Keeping Abreast of Science and Technology: Technical Intelligence for Business by Bradford Ashton & Richard Klavans, 1997  ; and Competitive Technical Intelligence: A Guide to Design, Analysis and Action by Mathias M. Coburn, 1999. BTW, building on his CTI expertise, Brad Ashton is editor of CI Foundation’s Competitive Technical Intelligence.

How do you use CTI in your organization?  Do you have best in class practices to share?

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3 Responses

  1. Great analysis of CTI best practices !

    But sounds a bit like “paradise for CTI workers”. I used to work in the CTI dept of a government organization (in France) and we never reached such a level of perfection in our practices. Particularly, maintaining useful networks within the organization is really difficult as CTI is often seen as a waste of time by the R&D guys.

    Now I’m working for a CI consulting company and we still have problems in making ours customers say to us what their needs really are.

    These are only expamples of the difficulties one could encounter in doing CTI.

    I think understanding those difficulties could be as useful as knowing the best practices. Will you write on that topic ?

    Anyway, if you know an organization like the ones you described in this post that’s currently looking for CTI people, I take it !

  2. Hi Nicolas,

    You’re right about these best practices looking like a paradise for CTI workers.

    CTI definition is an uphill battle and there is continual selling to get people to understand its value and to get an executive to back your program, else it is doomed.

    I will write a post on the difficulties once I get this chapter written!

    On a final note, I always reckon that the quality of the answers you provide clients is only as good as your questions. We have to spend extra time in CTI as in CI to ask LOTs of questions to get our clients to tell us what they really need, why it’s valuable, how they’re doing to use “it” and who is going to use it.

    Bonne Chance,

    Ellen

  3. I agree with Nicolas, great analysis!

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