In an uncertain and fast-moving global economy, competitive intelligence (CI) can be a powerful business management tool. By uncovering and applying vital information about rivals, organizations can fine-tune their strategies and goals, improve their ability to manage risks, and stay a step ahead of the competition.
Not all organizations engage in formalized intelligence gathering, but most perform it to some degree, if only in simple, low-tech ways. For instance, a company's sales representatives might be encouraged to find out more about a competitor's offerings and pricing, or a small business owner might monitor a rival's actions through the media. CI isn't strictly for traditional businesses, though. Organizations such as universities and nonprofits also rely on it to keep pace with their peers.
Because librarians work behind the scenes, they may not be among the first employees thought of as good sources for competitive intelligence, yet they can be as effective as a salesperson in the field in bringing useful information to light. But in organizations where the library is viewed as mostly a support or administrative function, the value of information professionals to the CI effort could easily be overlooked.
The success of librarians in becoming integral members of the CI team hinges on a familiar theme: They must let their customers know what they can do for them. And, indeed, they can do many things to grease the wheels of reconnaissance.
Consider these strategies that you as an information professional can use to raise your profile and influence when it comes to CI:
Understand customer expectations for intelligence. You may need to take the initiative in becoming involved in intelligence-gathering efforts. You can do this by working with customers to establish expectations for CI, identify key areas of interest, and develop procedures and formats for communicating findings. Also, find out about existing CI efforts within the company and become a part of their communications loop. It's likely that groups such as sales support, market research, and CI (if there is a department dedicated to the effort) already have an active information-sharing network. Get copied on their newsletters, meeting schedules, requests for information, and other communications so that you can track their information needs.
You will also want to make sure you have a clear understanding of who makes up your...