Competitive Intelligence for Every Library


SLA 2009 Conference Round-up

I first heard the term Competitive Intelligence a couple of years ago. I wondered what it meant. Competitive intelligence can be defined as the process of gathering information from a variety of sources, then the data is analyzed and applied to a specific industry, organization, or project (“Competitive Intelligence and Government Libraries,” Roberta I. Shaffer on June 16, 2009 ). The library science term is “information analytics” if you want to read up on it. Admittedly all I knew about competitive intelligence or CI is that it is a buzz word. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Roberta Shaffer was a former law librarian who strongly advocates engaging in CI.  My sense that locally in Toronto competitive intelligence is not on the radar for information professionals.

You might be scratching your head and saying I have enough to do, or be a skeptic and say why is it important? Companies who don’t engage in CI are missing out on opportunities to grow and perhaps become more profitable. Shaffer cites a Trendsetter study in 2002 that studies Fortune 200 companies who adopted CI practices. Those companies that made revenue producing decisions based on CI increased bottom line by 14.2% and at 20% faster rate of growth than those companies not using CI processes.

I see competitive intelligence as looking at facts and trends then forecasting where a company may want to engage new clients or refocus any of their business practices. Some examples of how CI is used include:

  • to evaluate core processes like budgeting, accounting, or hiring
  • to engage in new research and development initiatives (e.g. skunk works)
  • to prioritze new client(s) or sub client groups

At one point Shaffer told us about reading about how Boeing would be shifting to producing more commercial airplanes as a response to less money available from the defence department. Also with auto industry in death throes, some of the auto parts could be re-engineered into medical devices as a new emerging industry. These were some of examples of competitive intelligence at work.

CI practitioners have a lot in common with librarians as they use grey sources like blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools. But CI people also rate information on confidence levels ranging from solid to credible but not corroborated to fragmented, low support.  CI also draws on work from economists, futurists, MBAs and accountants, when they throw forecasting, envisioning, strategic planing and business planning into the full spectrum of analysis.

So I left the talk feeling that competitive intelligence was not totally foreign and scary. Although I may not be actively practicing competitive intelligence, now  I have a firm grasp of how to define it and where to go from there.  I have included both full conference notes and other posts to give you a feeling of being there.

– Brenda

More Reading

Full conference notes by Roberta I. Shaffer of the Federal Library and Information Center Committee/Federal Library Network (FLICC/FEDLINK)

7 Emerging Countries for Leadership

Countries to watch for workforce trends, education innovation, and more

Comprehensive Summary by David E. McBee in a Federal government library, Washington, DC

Snapshot of CI Tools in Law Firms and includes survey of why major firms engaging in competitive intelligence


One Response to “Competitive Intelligence for Every Library”

  1. 1 Karen

    Thanks for the summary Brenda. Now I feel I really understand the term. Sounds like it was an interesting session.

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