Conference Report: 2006 SCIP International

By Hal Reid

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) held its annual conference and exhibition last week (April 26-29) in Orlando, Florida. This conference is a collection of CI practitioners and consultants, vendors of software, search engines and data, all of whom span the worlds of market, business and competitive intelligence.

This conference is important to the location intelligence community because it provides a different set of insights into many of the same things that we do. However, you will be hard pressed to see any mapping software or related data. This is not because it isn’t applicable. It is just that the attendees are more into mapping data relationships and virtual geography than actual geography, and almost universally they have little understanding of why location should be a key part of their endeavors.

I did not see any of the same vendors who attended the LI conference earlier in the month, but there were companies that should be at our conference. They perform functions such as technology scouting (finding companies or products that may be disruptive to the market place), risk assessment of new markets, assessment of emerging markets in the third world, and developing early warning systems for changing market conditions. I saw serious search engines tailored just for your industry. These technologies are adjacent to location intelligence and are already working on a global scale, but generally without the advantages of understanding what is on the ground.

One example of an organization in need of an LI approach to problem solving involved a company analyzing the effects of a competitor’s activities. The competitor had announced its intention to build a new product at a plant in the U.S. Two years later, there had been no further word about the product or plant. The company searched environmental impact statements (EISs) to determine the nature of the new plant and the product to be produced. They discovered that the initial new product release announcement had been bogus – the competitor was actually planning to produce something entirely different, which they uncovered by examining the EIS. Because they performed this research, the organization got 18 to 24 more months of lead-time to develop a counter strategy to compete against the competitor than they otherwise would have had. As LI professionals, we would simply have made a few trips to Google Maps, made a visit to check out local building permits, and maybe found a current geo-registered aerial photo.

David Moore, NSA Senior Intelligence Authority, gave a presentation on Cognition, Intelligence and Complexity. He presented the concept of intelligence gathering as trying to find new ways to traverse a very complex world in pursuit of knowledge. The presentation included both the validity of the traditional approach and its failings. His assessment of the failures included situations like expert bias (e.g. experts being wrong when encountering conditions beyond their experiences) and the effects of collective presumptions – that is, “everybody knows” (my favorite wobbly logic justification). Moore also covered the shift from traditional hierarchical structures (command and control), to networks, to hybrids, which are a combination of the two. His view of intelligence/understanding is based on the intelligence community moving from the cold war, where the operational model was based on secrets, security and prevention, to the present day, where we have mystery, uncertainty and risk management.

At the present rate of change in the business world, we, too, are up against similar situations, and we need (as Moore puts it) “complex adaptive systems” (CASs) in order to be effective in the market place and against competitors. The adaptive system has to mimic events or conditions, make sense of them, and then be able to provide effective countervailing options. At the end of the process, it has to provide the shortest possible description of events and conditions and the counter strategies, in order to maintain focus on the original purpose.

Look at the mechanisms of a CAS and see if they don’t parallel the sales forecasting model or the network models used in LI or even the performance models used in business intelligence:
  • tagging - identifying opposition (location of competition)
  • models - to provide CAS the power to anticipate.
  • building blocks - elements of reality to be used in the models which identify things you didn’t expect to see
  • heuristic capability - the CAS needs to be able learn to adapt.
Another part of the comparable logic (between LI and CI) is that as we move away from traditional hierarchical business organizations and compete against the virtual organization, the ability to see and map entities as a network becomes more important. Networks and virtual organizations should be more dynamic than traditional organizations and therefore will be better suited to CAS applications.

Adding to the elements of a CAS, CI folks already have the tools to track executives as they move from company to company, looking at their past performance, style of management, etc. Knowing about the players and their attributes in a virtual organization may not be that difficult.

Perhaps with a little thought, we could provide the competitive intelligence people with the ability to map the extent of competitors’ (virtual or not) core competencies, capabilities and abilities to execute. We already have access to some serious modeling capabilities. I’ll bet with a little collusion we can build a better CAS that is tied to the ground - one that can mimic, make sense and provide some great countervailing strategies and tactics against real geography.

Published Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Written by Hal Reid

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