Competitive Intelligence

Competitive intelligence (CI) is the process of systematically gathering, monitoring, analyzing, and disseminating external information of strategic value to an organizations, for example information about competitors, customers, markets, and products. The purpose of CI is decision support, that is, providing key decision makers with the insights they need to make informed strategic choices about current or potential competitive threats and opportunities. 

LIS professionals who do CI research and analysis most often work in for-profit organizations. They may gather competitive intelligence (sometimes also known as business intelligence) about rival companies, emerging market opportunities, potential partners, companies to acquire, and myriad other types of threats and opportunities. In addition to excellent general research skills (for example, those possessed by many LIS professionals), CI specialists may also have a business degree (BA or MBA) or broad and deep knowledge in a certain field, for example, pharmaceuticals or telecommunications. However, this additional expertise is not necessary to thrive as a CI researcher.

Within organizations, CI specialists may be part of a centralized corporate information center or library or they may be embedded within specific operational units as key members of, for example, the business development or product development teams. Or, they may work as independents and contractors on a project basis.

Competitive intelligence specialists work across a wide spectrum of industries and under multiple job titles. For example, a selective list of job openings from Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), the primary association representing competitive intelligence specialists, includes:

  • Business and competitive intelligence manager, business consultancy
  • Competitive analysis consultant, technology firm
  • Competitive intelligence analyst, law firm
  • Competitive intelligence and strategy manager, sales consulting company
  • Competitive intelligence manager, pharmaceutical development firm
  • Customer and market intelligence analyst, healthcare firm
  • Manager – market intelligence, manufacturing company
  • Market intelligence analyst, financial services company
  • Semiconductor market intelligence manager, electronics firm
  • Senior research analyst, higher education/technology institute
  • Strategic planning analyst, insurance company

And LinkedIn Jobs suggests these titles in addition to competitive intelligence:

  • Business research analyst
  • Business research manager
  • Business researcher
  • Competitive intelligence analyst
  • Competitive intelligence manager
  • Manager competitive intelligence

Similar to the SCIP postings, these jobs and titles are found within every type of industry imaginable, including higher education, healthcare, media, publishing, materials science, the various energy sectors, retail, and more.

Unlike types of librarianship roles that encompass multiple LIS skills, competitive intelligence focuses instead on a specific LIS skill – i.e., strategic research – and related capabilities such as information analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and presentation. So, for example, you may be asked to provide insights into the threats and opportunities involved in creating a new product line, assess the pros and cons of expanding into a new market, provide the initial background research on a potential collaborative partner or acquisitions target, or analyze the business threat posed by proposed regulatory restraints under consideration.

To learn more about the field of competitive intelligence work and determine whether this might be a potential career path for you, reach out to several CI practitioners for informational interviews and learn more about what they do, how they do it, and other useful insights. Another way to gain insights is to join a relevant LinkedIn group (for example, Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals). Also, keep in mind that the iSchool program has a nationally known CI specialist as adjunct faculty, Scott Brown, as well as research courses whose instructors are likely to know CI practitioners with whom they could put you in touch.

Another way to explore the CI path is to take advantage of your iSchool-provided professional association membership and join SLA and its Competitive Intelligence division. This is a great way to begin reaching out to others in the field for informational interviews, career advice, webinars, discussions, and potential internships and job openings. (You can search through the membership directory and filter by people who are working for corporations of interest, and if possible located near where you live (you can additionally filter by state)

Core Knowledge

There is no established set of core competencies for competitive intelligence professionals, but following are some of the expected skills, based on an overview of CI job postings:

  • An ability to explore and refine client research requests to understand the nature of the question and how the results will be used (yes, you’ll be using your reference interview skills!)
  • An ability to search multiple relevant resources (e.g., proprietary databases, research and analyst reports, personal interviews, government data and reports, etc.)
  • An ability to asses both domestic and international information sources for credibility, authority, and appropriateness for the specific research need
  • An ability to understand the strategic goals of a department or organization and interpret research findings in the context of those goals
  • An ability to not only undertake research, but to analyze, synthesize, interpret, and present findings in a way that provides strategic decision support
  • An ability to present information (both text and data) findings using multiple tools and techniques, especially through data visualization

In addition, due to what where occasional ethical abuses by less-reputable practitioners, competitive intelligence professionals are expected to adhere to the Code of Ethics established by SCIP, which includes:

  • To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession.
  • To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.
  • To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one's identity and organization, prior to all interviews.
  • To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one's duties.
  • To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one's duties.
  • To promote this code of ethics within one's company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession.
  • To faithfully adhere to and abide by one's company policies, objectives and guidelines

Additional Resources

Professional Associations

Competitive Intelligence Division – SLA

Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP)

Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)

Books

Carter, Keith B. and Donald Farmer. Actionable Intelligence: A Guide to Delivering Business Results with Big Data Fast! Wiley, 2014. 224p. ISBN 978-1118915233.

Howson, Ciindi. Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI and Big Data, 2d ed. McGraw-Hill Education, 336p. ISBN 978-0071809184.

Nelke, Margareta and Charlotte Häkansson. Competitive Intelligence for Information Professionals.Chandos Publishing, 2015. 152p. ISBN 978-0081002063.

Sherman, Rick. Business Intelligence Guidebook: From Data Integration to Analytics. Morgan Kaufmann, 2014. 550p. ISBN 978-0124114616.

Underwood, James D. Competitive Intelligence for Dummies. For Dummies, 2013. 384p. ISBN 978-1118451021.