“What competitive intelligence? We are in the middle of a crizes, we need to survive!” That may be the statement of many executives today, and it seems that competitive advantage is nothing but an elusive goal. The results of a recent McKinsey survey suggest one reason: just 53% of executives characterize their companies’ strategies as emphasizing the creation of relative advantage over competitors; the rest say their strategies are better described as matching industry best practices and delivering operational imperatives. In other words – this is nothing but a buzzword for stakeholders to make them feel safe.
What I even find more interesting is that only 33% say their companies’ strategies rest on novel data and insights not available to competitors, rather than widely available data. We are more or less used to see companies (especially the big ones) as having some “CIA” teams in charge with competitive intelligence but it seems that this is only true in some of them. What we don’t know from McKinsey’s survey is how many of those 33% are large multinationals and how many are not.
However, there may be one likely explanation of this fact that wouldn’t be affected by the size of the company or the existence of such intelligence units: the widespread availability of information and adoption of sophisticated strategy frameworks creates an impression that “everyone knows what we know and is probably analyzing the data in the same ways we are.” Yet if strategists question their ability to see something that no one else does, the question that raises is how reach are the powerful insight that are most likely to differentiate them from competitors?
Another astonishing result: only 12% of surveyed executives place novel insights in strategy among the top three influencers of financial performance. The financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed revealed weaknesses in many strategies and forced many companies to confront choices and trade-offs they put off in boom years. Not surprisingly, 56% report that their companies are making strategic decisions more frequently than before. This increased speed may make it difficult for some companies to analyze each decision in detail. However, a shift toward shorter planning cycles only increases the need to focus on the timeless aspects of strategy that can drive competitive advantage.
And this brings us back to our main question: is competitive intelligence a buzzword or does it bring a genuine value to the company and its financial performance?