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Competitive intelligence: Capturing a wider view

This article appears in the issue November/December 2010, [Vol 19, Issue 10]
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Getting a handle on your competitors’ activities requires checking an increasing number of sources. Searching for news items, monitoring social media and analyzing Internet traffic on competitors’ sites all contribute to understanding the competitive landscape. A competitive intelligence (CI) program should cover all three of those sources to provide a comprehensive understanding of the competition and your company’s place in the market.

Quick and comprehensive

Tekelec is a broadband data management company that has automated the collection of competitive intelligence using the Digimind platform. The company does business in a fast-growing and global market with a changing set of needs. Tekelec’s products allow interoperability between network technologies while the telecom industry is transitioning to all IP-networks. Its product groups include core infrastructure, mobile messaging and network performance monitoring.

The range of solutions that Tekelec offers and the many geographical regions in which the company operates led to a challenging situation for competitive intelligence gathering. Manual data collection was time-consuming and possibly incomplete, and the multiple teams that were involved ran the risk of duplicating each other’s efforts. As a result, Tekelec decided to find an automated solution that would be quicker and more comprehensive.

The company chose the Digimind platform because it monitored all the targeted online data sources, including publications, blogs, competitors’ websites and scientific data from the deep Web. It also encompassed all stages of the competitive intelligence process, from data collection to analysis, visualization and information sharing.

The team that was implementing the Digimind platform identified the sources that the search would target, and developed a list of search terms to bring in the information. That information is then analyzed with tools that provide clustering, event analysis and other techniques for interpreting the data. In addition, the software presents the results in visual form, such as maps or timelines, to make the information more readily understandable.

Tekelec reports that the use of Digimind has helped the company keep track of other vendors’ activities, detect trends and identify emerging technologies. Because the information is archived, the company can go back and re-evaluate it even if it was transient at the original source and is no longer available.

More than data collection

“We specialize in helping our clients automate their CI activities,” says Chris Hote, CEO of Digimind. “We cover the full process of CI, not just data collection.” Digimind has tools to categorize information, analyze it and share it.

“To categorize the data, our system uses rules, such as when a drug moves from phase two to phase three investigation,” Hote explains. “We also have Web 2.0 features that allow comments to be attached, or prioritization levels.” Text mining tools highlight trends and correlations among the articles received.

The ability to integrate Digimind easily with other applications allows its clients to use the product in context. “We allow Salesforce  users to see results from within their application,” Hote says. “Also, through integration with SharePoint, Digimind can feed the portal or SharePoint can send PowerPoint presentations and other files back to Digimind to be included in the archive so they are searchable as CI content.”

Accessible by the non-technical

In much the same way as other KM tools such as business intelligence have become more user-friendly, CI solutions have focused on allowing business users to extract and disseminate competitive information from Web sources. “A key aspect of our product development has been to allow non-technical people to monitor and extract information from websites in an automated way,” says Matthew Jacobson, VP of sales and services at Connotate. “The information collected from the Web can be published in a centralized portal, trigger e-mail alerts, or create a daily newsletter containing key points about the competitive landscape.”

Connotate offers a range of industry solutions to automate the extraction, aggregation and presentation of data for a variety of purposes, including one that is specifically designed for competitive intelligence. What they have in common is the use of intelligent software agents to locate and monitor information, and deliver it to decision-makers. “We work with customers to select the most useful sites for data collection,” Jacobson explains, “based on the customers’ experience and a discovery process that expands the reach of the monitoring process.”

Once aggregated, the results can be presented directly or run through additional analytics. “We can help clients to gain quantitative insights, such as whether a certain product showed a drop in price,” he says.

“In addition, we can provide sentiment analysis on consumer comments about products.” According to Jacobson, the hottest areas for CI are pharma, biotech, retailing and packaged goods. They are all competitive industries in which keeping track of what others in the field are doing is vital.

Social media untapped

In an informal study by Hoovers conducted in 2009, only one-third of respondents were using social media in their competitive intelligence initiatives. Companies such as Digimind and Connotate include those sites in their searches, but overall, the input from social media is neglected as a source. The oversight is all the more pointed considering that more than 80 percent of B2C businesses are using social media in their marketing, making social media a potentially rich source of information.

A number of online tools have been developed to focus specifically on social media. BackType allows users to type a URL and see the Twitter comments associated with it. A graph showing the number of comments over a week pops up on the screen. Social Mention provides a search window for keywords, and the option to select blogs, microblogs or both. The results screen shows the number of responses and also sentiment analysis. Alterian, a British-based marketing firm, provides tools for analyzing social media including those of competitors. Its recent purchase of Intrepid, a social media consulting firm, will provide a set of analytics to help its customers monitor what is being said about them and their customers in the social media.

The market is far from consolidated, and many products in it are not designed for enterprise use. But the potential for extracting valuable information is considerable, and more action can be expected in that arena within the next year.

Monitoring Web traffic

In addition to monitoring news items and social media such as blogs, companies can discover useful information by monitoring Internet traffic on their competitors’ sites. Trellian provides CI tools that its subscribers can use to compile and analyze information from competitors’ websites. The analyses identify the links and keyword searches and keyword ad campaigns that are driving traffic to a competitor’s site. The data is collected from a panelist base of 3 million individuals (distributed globally) who install software on their computers that allows tracking their browsing behavior.

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