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FreePint BlogDevelopments in CI Provision: How Should Information Professionals Adapt?

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Andrew Grave reviews the recent FreePint articles on the theme of competitive intelligence. He notes the move towards business intelligence tools, the failure of InfoArmy, suggests how information professionals should respond and identifies a common trap they should avoid.


Information professionals are no strangers to innovation in their industry. The latest such innovation honed in on competitive intelligence and came from crowdsourcing company InfoArmy. Aileen Marshall reviewed this producer of company reports as recently as December 2012. At the time, she described it as an intriguing new player in the field of competitive intelligence reporting.

Two months later, we invited Aileen back to comment on InfoArmy’s acknowledgement that its business model was not working. She reported that since its launch in 2011, it had reportedly booked sales of $4,356 yet paid out $146,000 to its crowdsourced researchers.

One reason attributed to the failure of InfoArmy’s business approach was poor quality data, with information on revenue and competitors seen as too vague.

I suggest that these types of reports are better compiled by information aggregators such as OneSource and not people. One of the issues that InfoArmy faced was the unwillingness of researchers to update their reports quarterly. This is certainly not an issue faced by aggregators who pull real-time information together from many sources to provide an overall view of a company. They describe such reports as business intelligence. In contrast to InfoArmy’s struggles, a trend has emerged in recent years for information providers to reinvent themselves as providers of business intelligence. In my review of Key Note in February, I found that this market reports provider has done exactly this by adding extensive company information into its product.  

Technology vs People

So, if business intelligence reports are best left to technology, what should the information professional be concentrating on?

Cynthia Lesky reminded us of the three fundamentals for business research in the post-truth era. The first is having the right skill set. With online resources, many people can find what appears (at first) to be relevant content. Information professionals with knowledge of sources and story development will seek corroborating or contradicting information.

In my review of the enhancements introduced to during 2012, I noted its incorporation of social media content including curated Twitter feeds, blogs and message boards. Whilst undoubtedly a useful addition to Factiva’s content, the strong information specialist should always aim to be one step ahead of aggregators like Factiva in seeking out new resources. This is particular pertinent with the explosion of social media and apps for mobile devices.  By staying on top of these fast-changing areas, they will maintain a differentiator over software-compiled business intelligence reports. 

The second of Cynthia’s rules is simple – the right mind set is a sceptical mind set.

The third is to point out the anomalies you observed and she commends us not to make our work look easier than it is.

However, I think the biggest tip for information professionals lies under her "next steps": allocate more time for analysis.

This is a key area where information professionals have a very strong advantage over technology. Her recommendation really struck home with two researchers at a legal firm when I discussed this with them recently. They acknowledged that whilst they had pulled together and summarised some great information, they could have added a lot more “if they just had another hour”. It is this type of insight, which answers the “so what?” questions, that justifies the term competitive intelligence and has the most value. But because it is the final process, the amount of time spent on it can often be unduly curtailed. It is this common trap that the successful information professional should avoid.

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