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Competitive intelligence, a game-changer

Opinion & Analysis
THIS article is part of a series of articles on competitive intelligence (CI). The purpose of this write-up is to examine CI as a game changer for both corporate and government competitiveness given rapidly changing technology, deregulation, and globalisation.

Scott Leeb / Alexander Maune

THIS article is part of a series of articles on competitive intelligence (CI). The purpose of this write-up is to examine CI as a game changer for both corporate and government competitiveness given rapidly changing technology, deregulation, and globalisation.

CI has become a global phenomenon in today’s environment of global competition as a result of big data, AI, IoT, 5G/6G, and cybersecurity. The adoption and use of mobile applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram have enabled high-speed availability and transfer of large amounts of data.

The advent of mobile application technologies and the wider availability of internet connections have made it easier for individuals and organisations to access large amounts of data. On average, every human created at least 1,7 MB of data per second in 2020. In 2020, 2,5 quintillion data bytes were created daily and the world had 4,8 billion internet users.

Experts predict that cloud data storage around the world will amount to 200+ Zettabytes by 2025. Estimates show that by 2030, nine out of every 10w people aged six and above would be digitally active. This amount of big data has a bearing on decision-making. This is critical to decision-makers and data analysts. An existing solution to this is called CI. The use of CI has become relevant now more than before.

The role of CI in the global economy has attracted a lot of controversy and attention from researchers, policy-makers, and intelligence professionals. For many, CI has been taken to mean business or economic espionage by others. CI is, however, based on the environmental school of strategic management and plays a very important role in the development and deployment of both corporate and national strategies.

While a game changer, CI is also controversial. Colakoglu (2011) in an article titled: “The Problematic of Competitive Intelligence: How to Evaluate and Develop Competitive Intelligence?” argues that people must not confuse CI with economic espionage. Colakoglu states that economic espionage is unlawful and unethical and that CI is legal and associated with a detailed code of ethics. In an article titled: “Exploring Competitive Intelligence Practices of French Local Public Agricultural Organisations,” the scope of CI goes beyond entities nowadays as new forms of territorial governance must include tools and methods of CI to optimise the creation of knowledge and intelligence.

According to Avner Barnea (2013), in an article published in the National Strategic Intelligence and Competitive Intelligence Journal, for many years intelligence capabilities have been recognised as one of the basic skills of a government since decision-makers demand quality intelligence on which they can depend on. To Juhari and Stephens (2006), CI has become an indispensable part in the strategic decision-making aspect of (companies) and nations.

As history has shown, successful military campaigns are based on timely and actionable intelligence. Country leaders and high-ranking government officials use intelligence to make crucial decisions for political sovereignty, protection of countries and their people, for creating and maintaining strategic alliances and for predicting the future of their countries.

Rise in globalisation puts spotlight on CI

It is easy to draw parallels between governments and commercial entities using intelligence. Business survival requires real-time understanding of the competitive environment so smart investments can be made to support both short and long-term objectives.

With the advent of globalisation, a term that was introduced in the 1980s, the role of intelligence became more visible and strengthened as a result of increased competition among nations. Afzal (2007) in his article: “The impact of Globalisation on Economic growth of Pakistan states that globalisation means growing integration of the national economies, openness to trade, financial flows, foreign direct investment, and the increasing interaction of people in all facets of their lives. It further implies the internationalisation of production, distribution and marketing of goods and services.

Globalisation brought with it both benefits and detriments. Globalisation presents new possibilities for eliminating global poverty. Globalisation can benefit poor countries directly and indirectly through cultural, social, scientific, and technological exchanges as well as trade and finance.

Some very important low-income countries like India and China have used globalisation to their advantage and have succeeded in achieving enviable economic growth rates and thus reduced some international inequalities. Dollar and Kraay (2004)’s article published by the World Bank notes that over half of the developing countries that have embraced globalisation have benefited tremendously through increased trade and tariffs reduction.

Globalisation has also played a critical role in poverty reduction through the integration of economies. It has also helped improve the competitiveness of nations.

Opponents, however, argue that globalisation have worsened inequalities both across and within countries.

This has caused serious competition across and within countries with developed countries establishing dominance over poor and developing nations. The effects are seen in environmental degradation, climate change, and ballooning national debts. Streeten (1998) observes that economic liberalisation, technological changes, competition in both labour and product markets have contributed to economic failure, weakening of institutions and social support systems, and erosion of established identities and values.

Afzal (2007) argues that globalisation has been bad for Africa and in many parts of the world for employment as international competition is forcing both governments, and firms to “downsize” and to adopt all necessary steps to save labour costs.

The negative effects of globalisation might be a result of many factors affecting governments decision-making processes, one of which includes lack of actionable intelligence critical in competitive environments, an argument supported by Lee and Karpova (2018), who state the importance of actionable intelligence in determining a country’s competitiveness in the new global arena. The lack of CI in many African countries may be blamed for the negative effects of globalisation.

Despite Africa’s traditional weaknesses, CI can still play a critical role in the continent’s future, leveraging on the continent’s resource base, young growing population, and technological advancement of the fourth industrial revolution. It is because of the centrality of knowledge and actionable intelligence in decision-making and policy formulation that places Africa in a position that requires the embracement of CI to enhance her competitiveness in the global economy.

To date, few African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria have taken a serious stance in embracing the concept of CI through formulating SCIPs chapters. However, there are other people who feel that SCIPs is an American influence, hence it cannot be implemented as it is in Africa. Besides such challenges, CI has spread to six continents with 53 international chapters distributed as follows; North America (28), Australia (1), Europe (10), Asia (8), Africa (3), and South America (3). SCIP now has over 300 ambassadors, 280 certified professionals, and 480 thought leaders.

Salguero (2017) in an article published in the Journal of Intelligence Studies in Business defines CI as a set of practices aimed at gathering information from the business environment ethically and legally, in order to transform it into intelligent information useful for strategic decision-making and, therefore, leading to business success and survival. To Barnea (2013), CI has its roots in national intelligence that involves secret State activities to understand or influence foreign entities. To him CI is based on the “intelligence cycle.”

CI adopted the discipline of national intelligence and applies it to its needs, with necessary modifications. CI operations follow a four-phase process known as the intelligence cycle. The intelligence cycle is oriented to the mission; this can be for the country or organisation.

Supervising and planning are inherent in all phases of the cycle.

The intelligence cycle is continuous. Even though the four phases are conducted in sequence, all are conducted concurrently. While available information is processed, additional information is collected, and the intelligence staff is planning and directing the collection effort to meet new demands. Previously collected and processed information (intelligence) is disseminated as soon as it is available or needed.

Competitiveness is defined in an article by Alexander Maune (2014): “Competitive Intelligence and Firm Competitiveness: An overview,” as the abilities of individual firms, or whole sectors, regions and even countries to successfully assert them in the domestic and global market.

It is not only a result of entrepreneurial activity of individual firms, but also a result of an appropriate structural policy, functioning competitive policy and adequate infrastructure. Competitiveness is also seen a multidimensional concept that refers to the ability by nations, industries, and firms to create sustainable competitive advantages in the global market. Globalisation of markets has created the need to enhance companies’ and countries’ competitiveness more rapidly, hence the call for the adoption of CI.

  • Alexander Maune is a Talmudic scholar, researcher, consultant and a member of IoDZ.
  • Scott M Leeb is currently with the University of Johannesburg’s information and knowledge management department