Questions to Ask Competitive Intelligence Software Providers

One of my colleagues called today and we spoke about what you might be looking for when you team up with a competitive intelligence software provider. I have links to a few of my favorites here. Rather than extolling the virtues of individual providers, in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here are some practical questions you want to ask a prospective service provider:

How does your system integrate with what I already have installed at various places in my company? Think salesforce.com that many in Sales use, SAP or Oracle systems. How does this software work with what people are already familiar with? Can the service provider provide a mask that makes it transparent to the user? Can this hang off our CRM? What will the CI software enable you to do that you can’t do today? Why?

How does this software enable competitive intelligence: monitoring, collection, dissemination and analysis? Frankly there isn’t a system out there that I know of that supports the entire competitive intelligence (CI) process. You need to decide what is the most important part of the CI cycle that the software will enable. Is translation built in for global organizations? How will it support multiple languages? Or do you build separate software apps in the native tongue and not support translation?

Many companies use CI software to both collect and disseminate intelligence. As a CI professional, I look for a solution that will free up my time to be a critical thinker, to do the analysis, prepare persuasive communication from what I can deduce, and connection with my users and providers of CI–in some cases maintaining that relationship in others finding and building relationships.

In that same vein, what is involved in keeping the information flow up-to-date? Does the software have crawlers that continue to find new information? How does it accommodate and integrate findings from traditional web 1.0 and social networks? Can my clerks be set up to input that timely information? Does it include any audience opinions such as a favorable rating versus slamming your products? How far back do I want to go in storing information? How do I insure that the date of the information is clearly identified so readers know? Do we have guidelines around copyright?

What is the balance between Push and Pull? Can my system users decide which areas they want to follow and have information pushed to them? How will the information be organized so people can easily find it? How does keyword searching work to locate information?

How easy is this system to use? Is any aspect of it visual? How easy is it for people to add information? Can they do it on the fly, such as from a trade show when they learn new intelligence? How do people correct mistakes and outdated information? Can I use the software for CI project management? How can people communicate back and forth through this software? Can we locate experts by topical area, both internal and external to the company?

What is the system security? How do I keep my strategic information away from Sales, for example? How do I keep all that Sales chatter away from R&D and strategic planners who might not be interested? How many levels of security does the system have?

What is your company’s culture? Are people going to engage with a CI software application or do you already have too many apps for people to process? Timing is everything. If your company is receptive to a CI software solution, where do you test it? How long do you test it? What will be the measure of success that will cause you to expand its usage? How will you train users on how the system works and the benefits of using it?

I believe that companies who can react to and predict the marketplace in real-time, while also having a meaningful long-term strategic plan, will be the winners in this global competitive environment. While you need to look out in the future with your crystal ball, you also need to be flexible enough to react to what is happening in the present moment, and be nimble enough to change, adapt and be opportunistic.

So, what questions would you add to this list?

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