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Competitive intelligence in Africa

Opinion & Analysis
“It is carried out through industry analysis, which means understanding the players in an industry, competitive analysis, which means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of competitors, and benchmarking, that is, the analysis of individual business processes of competitors.”

By Scott Leeb/Alexander Maune

THIS article, the third in a series, is a follow up to the previously published articles by the same authors in the NewsDay. The articles were titled: “Competitive intelligence (CI) as a game-changer for competitiveness,” and “the global case for competitive Intelligence.” Intelligence has been in use since biblical times when during the Exodus of Egypt, Moses sent the 12 spies to the land of Canaan, the promised land (Torah, Numbers Chapter 13). More recently, many countries have used intelligence during and after World War II to industrialise through economic espionage which has been proven to be illegal. Since then, CI has been developed to gather critical intelligence in a legal and more acceptable way.

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), an official US-based intelligence organisation, defines CI as: “Timely and fact-based data on which management may rely in decision-making and strategy development.

“It is carried out through industry analysis, which means understanding the players in an industry, competitive analysis, which means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of competitors, and benchmarking, that is, the analysis of individual business processes of competitors.”

The business environment in Africa is highly complex, thereby affecting the competitiveness of the continent.

Trade liberalisation and globalisation have exposed Africa to foreign competition.

Trade liberalisation and globalisation together with the problems posed by fluctuating financial markets and unstable political conditions call for effective CI practices.

No nation can develop and compete without adequately organising its CI.

CI as a business discipline has formed an integral part of efforts to enhance the competitive behaviour of African companies and society as a whole.

Entry into the global economy requires high-grade CI. CI has long been acknowledged as a strategic management means to improve competitiveness.

CI has become critical in decision-smaking processes and policy formulation. CI has a positive impact on economies and on the quality of lives of citizens.

The current information/knowledge generation has placed CI at the centre stage for competitiveness and economic growth.

Previously, factors such as capital, labour, and natural resources were traditionally considered as the only factors which matter for economic growth.

The emergence of the internet and online databases has offered an almost inexhaustible supply of information that has caused information overload in many instances.

Calof and Skinner (1999) in their article: “Government’s role in competitive intelligence: What’s happening in Canada?” argue that a country is likely to underperform without an appropriate CI infrastructure. Countries such as France, Sweden, Japan and Canada have recognised the value of government and industry working jointly in the development of an intelligence culture (Sewdass and Toit, 2014). The new paradigm in development economics is based on self-analysis, self-reliance, and self-renewal, which would seem to necessitate a development-orientated intelligence policy in a country.

Utilising CI enables companies in developing countries to gain a greater market share and to compete successfully against international competitors.

The implementation of CI contributes to the generation of FDI in developing countries through value addition and beneficiation given the natural resources that are in abundance.

Reliable global information has become central to national success, whether the need is for knowledge of an industry, a market, a product or a competitor.

CI is now at the cutting edge of competition, survival and growth of economies.

The objective of CI is to understand how the surrounding competitive environment will impact an organisation — by monitoring events, actors, trends, research breakthroughs and so forth — in order to be able to make relevant strategic decisions.

A major trend in the world today is the increasing competition in global and digitalised markets where the speed of change and innovation is becoming faster than ever before due to developments in information technology.

CI provides a better understanding of the dynamic global world.

However, new technology has become a threat to companies as today every individual is a potential spy. Corporate espionage has also become a big problem with its consequences still underestimated.

Competitive intelligence and competitiveness

Current literature shows that limited research has been conducted on CI and competitiveness in Africa.

The state of CI remains fragmented in Africa. With the exception of South Africa and Nigeria, both of which have managed to establish SCIPs chapters, there is not a great deal taking place in other domains on the African continent regarding CI.

A SCIP chapter was launched in South Africa in the mid-1990s and albeit slowly, companies are becoming increasingly competitive minded.

Until that time, research into CI in South Africa had also been limited. The first comprehensive research projects (in Africa) were launched at the beginning of the century in South Africa. Before that, only a few papers were written on CI. As a result of factors such as history, culture, diversity, geography, political, and institutional landscape, the business environment in Africa is highly complex. This has affected the continent’s competitiveness in the global economy.

For CI to flourish in Africa and for the discipline to be implemented and used optimally, there has to be an appropriate awareness of CI and a culture of competitiveness. African societies tend to be collectivist. Collectivism, in contrast to individualism, refers to a society, in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. Without proper empirical evidence of CI as a source of competitiveness, awareness, and attitudes that favour both CI and information sharing, it is difficult to develop CI programmes in Africa. Research shows that South Africa and Morocco have taken greater strides in designing national competitive intelligence systems.

There have been a number of studies that have been carried out in South Africa in particular on CI practices showing how the concept has been developed in that country in comparison with other African countries.

The paper provides some interesting insights on CI.

CI provides firms with a competitive strategy that helps decision-makers in firms of all sizes and these strategies are connected to philosophical views and methodologies found documented by early war and economics scholars. Because of the time frame, CI has undergone a groundswell of interest due to increased availability of information and the increased proliferation of commercial databases worldwide.

Even though it is connected to these philosophical views and methodologies, research has shown that limited research has been conducted or published on CI practices in African countries with the exception of South Africa and Nigeria where significant progress have been made so far.

  • Alexander Maune is a Talmudic scholar, researcher and consultant as well as a member of IoDZ
  • Scott M Leeb is staff member at the University of Johannesburg’s Information and Knowledge Management Department