Jan Herring’s Words of Wisdom for Info Pros

I spent most of this week in New Orleans at SLA’s annual conference. I really enjoyed it, and this blog hails competitive intelligence pioneer, Jan Herring. While his communication was geared to information professionals, competitive intelligence professionals take note!

Jan is so supportive of the competitive intelligence profession and I think is a true cooperative intelligence practitioner in that he is so giving. He was the CI division’s breakfast speaker, as well as a panel member on two consecutive panel discussions, Ask The Competitive Intelligence Experts and Competitive Intelligence Transitions for LIS Professionals. Jan is regarded as the father of modern competitive intelligence as he started Motorola’s first formal program, after a distinguished first career with the CIA.

Behind each successful CI process is a corporate library or at least librarian support, as timely, focused secondary research is a valuable component of CI. Bonnie Hohhof of SCIP fame, was the corporate librarian at Motorola that Jan selected to help form the CI team. Jan still quotes Peggy Carr’s 2003 book, “Super Searchers in Competitive Intelligence” as a good resource on how research and CI are tied together.

Jan reviewed the basics of competitive intelligence including the traditional intelligence cycle and the knowledge pyramid to build insightful, actionable intelligence. Intelligence is the right information, delivered and prepared for the people in the company who have the authority to make decisions. In this vein, Jan shared former Motorola CEO Bob Galvin’s parable. Bob had made a bad decision around a market entry. There was one employee who didn’t share some key information, and Bob wondered whose fault it was that the employee hadn’t shared this information. His or the employee’s? Jan asserted that it was the employee’s and honed in on connecting with the right employees around key decisions.

Another gem was, “Get your information and insight into the Heads of decision-makers, not just their Hands.”  A great quote he shared from Robert Steele, “Information costs money. Intelligence makes money.” Jan recommends is that the insight created by intelligence findings and conclusions be measured or valued through ROI. Jan wrote an article on this topic in the Mar/Apr 2007 Competitive Intelligence Magazine published by SCIP.

Jan suggests that you learn to think like your leadership and communicate with them in their words being careful not to insert competitive intelligence verbiage. Know how they are motivated since what makes the management team successful isn’t what makes Info Pros or CI professionals successful. Tim Kindler of Kodak ties his CI deliverables to corporate management’s calendar of needs and events. Respected CI professionals are humble as they set aside their egos and false assumptions, but not too humble so as not to persuasively communicate findings to management.

There are three areas where information pros and CI professionals can improve:

  1. Financial based reporting – work with the finance department to develop and monitor financial benchmarks against your major competitors
  2. Early warning – build innovative secondary source monitoring as a base for your primary researchers to verify findings through people to develop early warning alerts
  3. CI software – develop software applications to support the monitoring, collection, storage and dissemination of information. More refined software is developed all the time such as Link Analysis and Evidence Based Research. A supplier to consider which assesses almost all CI software providers is Eastport Analytics. You can find some individual CI software providers at SCIP’s website.

A final key finding that Jan and Paul Houston uncovered during their research of 20 companies: it’s most important for firms to have a savvy CI manager/director who produces what management wants/needs. You need to do CI on your own leadership to keep a pulse on their ever changing needs.

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One Response

  1. I get what Jan said (or, at least, I hope that’s what he meant), but I’d like to say a few words of caution about the way some of what is in your post can be (mis)interpreted, especially by those in CI.

    Quotes like, “Information costs money. Intelligence makes money.” or the concept that “behind each successful CI process is a corporate library,” can be (mis)interpreted in terms of hierarchy: CI is made up of the smart people who add value to the organization and the library is made up of the cheerful (overhead) servants who supply stuff to those smart people. I hear about this ALL the time to the point where I now cringe at statements like, “We love librarians! We support librarians! We can’t do our work without them!” From those who take the view of librarians as those who simply hunt down information, it’s so patronizing. I’m not trying to be disparaging, but there are many people I’ve encountered in CI who take a very ethnocentric stance—perhaps defensively, because the CI profession is still struggling to define itself in the corporate world.

    You note that ”Respected CI professionals are humble as they set aside their egos and false assumptions, but not too humble so as not to persuasively communicate findings to management.” My experience is that they may be humble with management, but may not be when it comes to everyone else. I suppose that leaders in the intel profession often come from government/military backgrounds, and hierarchy is ingrained.

    Libraries aren’t (or shouldn’t be) merely components of CI groups. A high performing library (and they aren’t all high performing, just like any function) is every bit as strategic to the BUSINESS as a high performing CI team. CI is only one customer of the library, among many other customers. High performing libraries facilitate the creation, flow, exchange, and institutionalization of knowledge. Some of that knowledge is CI. A heckuva lot isn’t.

    Corporate librarians have advanced degrees, and often have additional undergraduate or graduate degrees in highly rigorous fields of study. For example, the majority of those in my own professional library network are degreed and experienced physical scientists as well as information pros. They can analyze and interpret data and information 8 ways to Sunday, reduce complexity to algorithms and heuristics with skill, and use their expertise to accurately predict outcomes. They just don’t necessarily apply these skills to the competitive landscape (which appears to be the only type of analysis and interpretation to which some in the CI profession attribute value), but rather to the effectiveness of the knowledge systems that drive many different areas of the business and underlie the overall organizational effectiveness. They also participate on project teams in many areas of vital importance to the business—and not just to source relevant literature—as full technical members of the team.

    Saying, “Information costs money. Intelligence makes money.” without considering the full implications is like saying, “R&D costs money. Sales makes money.” Well, on the surface, yes. But the truth is that they are equally important to making the business succeed (making money). It’s just that it’s a lot easier to do the accounting the closer in the value chain you are to the sales transaction.

    Anyway, I wasn’t at SLA and I’m sure that Jan gave a great talk. I just caution CI practitioners to step back and consider how they truly view and value the corporate library and, for that matter, other functions in their organizations.

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