Assessing Competitive Intelligence Software: A Guide to Evaluating CI Technology

Steve Thornton (Departmental Programmes Coordinator, Knowledge Services, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Thurleigh, UK)

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 1 April 2004




Thornton, S. (2004), "Assessing Competitive Intelligence Software: A Guide to Evaluating CI Technology", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 35-36.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Competitive Intelligence: an information gathering process involving the analysis of a company's external environment, including its competitors, in order to remain competitive”.

The title of this work belies its overall scope: competitive intelligence as a topic may appear to be of little interest to the special librarians in general, but the book starts from a far broader base, addressing the issues involved in creating knowledge, and giving an excellent overview of the literature on the concept of adding value to information and data to create that knowledge. This is of far greater importance to libraries in the first decade of the twenty‐first century than is generally given voice – but should be announced from the rooftops. As Bouthillier and Shearer point out:

For many centuries libraries have added value to cultural products by organizing collections of manuscripts and books. In spite of the evolution of their information systems and services, their cultural and symbolic roles have often taken precedence over their function of adding value, which has remained obscure for most people …Many aspects are incorporated in adding value to information. At one level, a major value‐adding activity is to filter through the mountains of information, identifying what has value and what does not. At another level, value can be augmented through the analysis of information by adding more meaning to it and transforming it into intelligence. But what exactly do we mean by these activities and how are they achieved?

For many librarians and their libraries the “cultural and symbolic roles” have become their raison d'être, failing to understand that their purpose should be to add value. And for many this awareness has come too late. The “we do what we do because that is what we have always done” ethos has led to many services being slashed and even obliterated because they have not understood the importance of utilising their skills and talents to add value to the information they assiduously collect to meet the changing needs and demands of their users.

Bouthillier and Shearer go further, and synthesize a definition of competitive intelligence, and develop a conceptual framework for CI. For a process that has been around for a significant time – the Japanese have been doing it for over 50 years, in one way or another – it is surprising that there is still disagreement about what it is, and why it is of value. The definition above that they have created is probably as good a one as I have seen, although, even I disagree with it slightly, for although I am involved in CI, my involvement is rarely from a commercial viewpoint.

They have analysed half a dozen of the more widely known competitive intelligence cycle models, and have created their own from this analysis. Oddly enough the process can be mapped directly onto Max Boisot's Social Learning Cycle model ‐ which reinforces our view that the library and information professionals should play a key role in almost every endeavor within any organization's processes.

The key elements within their overall model include information processing; identification of needs and outcomes; acquisition of information; organisation, storage and retrieval; analysis, and the development and distribution of products.

The rapid development of information technology to support intellectual exercises such as CI has led to a massive proliferation of tools that are usually marketed as “the answer to all your information needs”. However, the definition of the process and delineation of the requirements of CI enables any organisation to investigate – and eliminate – some of the 300 or more CI software applications currently on the market. Bouthillier and Shearer have developed a 32‐point table of evaluation criteria, and look at how some of the major competitors on the market (Knowledge, Works, Strategy!, Viva Intelligence Portal and Wincite) fare against these requirements. This table is in fact a benchmarking tool that should save any purchaser of CI software a lot of time, trouble and effort in selecting the one system that meets their needs most closely.

In their conclusions, the authors state that “Given the pace of technological change there is no doubt that the future holds great promise for innovations in CI software”. If library and information professionals and their services are to survive the next generation, this is an area where we need to be taking the lead.

The authors include a very useful bibliography of the most important papers and web sites of relevance, but given the nature of CI it is surprising that they have not referred to any of the massive corpus of documents by Ronald Kostoff of the US Office of Naval Research.

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