A few (borrowed) thoughts about competitive intelligence

The ultimate objective of good competitive intelligence work is providing for your customers the formulation of sound, fact-based, rational decisions for action.

For librarians treading into this arena, competitive intelligence is at least one-part business reference: tracking down information on companies, markets and products. 

The librarian analyzes the competitive environment, including your patron's competitors and customers while looking (perhaps) at general consumer needs. Librarians can do this investigating using primary and secondary research materials. Some will interview experts, academics and government people. 

Competitive intelligence, however, is more than reference work. (And this is probably why it is rated so importantly for the future of libraries, at least special libraries). Librarians who perform competitive intelligence take research one step further and provide analysis of the data and succinct information synthesis.

Here's what librarians performing CI should be doing, per Competitive Intelligence: A Librarian's Empirical Approach, by Margaret Gross in Searcher (Sept. 2000): 

  • Figuring out customer needs and future moves
  • Search and research
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Making recommendations

(The last one may be a bit controversial, especially in the tech library where I work.) 

Any librarian -- and many users -- can gather and find information. But CI people place it in the larger picture. Kathryn Lewark, manager of information resources at 3Com, said in a March 2001 article in Library Journal by Norman Oder: "Gathering intelligence is important but not sufficient. You have to filter it and in many cases put on a layer of analysis." 

CI isn't for today. It's to look down the road writes Cynthia Cheng Correia in a 2006 Library Journal article: Getting Competitive: Competitive Intelligence Is a Smart next Step for Information Pros

We may use it in preparation of a five-year strategic plan, for example. Barring a crystal ball, we can't definitively predict events and conditions, but CI can help us better understand the forces that impact our organization, monitor developments, and arrive at insights that can inform more robust plans and better decisions.