“Old school” methodologies provide innovation and deliver insights.

Aurora WDC’s RECONVERGE intelligence symposium focusing on “invention and reinvention” continued in Madison on Tuesday with a compelling presentation by Victoria Richard, Manager, Competitive Intelligence, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, and Raleen Gagnon, Director, Market Intelligence & Strategy, ManpowerGroup Solutions in their discussion, “Agents of Change: Intelligence Opportunity in Transformation.”

Richard began the discussion by observing that change is constant; Gagnon observed that CI experts will find success “in being faster, cooler, and more strategic” in changes made on the job.

The idea is that we must change or perish, that it is the job of the CI practitioner to forecast change–but it is also the object to push for change in our companies.

The presenters used their own career paths as examples of change in motion.

Richard began in qualitative method based research, but returned to school in a bad economy and discovered CI; earned her MBA, and decided she wanted to become involved in starting CI programs.

Gagnon notes that traditionally CI practitioners morph into the CI role, and that Richard may be unique in her career trajectory in that it was an initial career pursuit.

Participants then described how they discovered the role; Gagnon says she “fell into it” and began her career in marketing.

Richard, a millennial, has never known a circumstance of economic certainty in living through the Great recession. She has experienced job shifts as a result of the struggling economy, and graduated with her MBA at a time of minimal hiring; as a result she began involved in consulting with start-ups.

She also observed that September 11 was impactful; we need to look for opportunities in challenging environments to advance our careers, not an easily accomplished goal.

Gagnon says when she became involved in CI, she was in the market strategy side and realized that she needed to know more about the company business, their customers, and the environment in which they operated.

She knew there was a gap in market intelligence at her firm, and she discovered she needed to “argue” with her coworkers such that they grew awareness of the importance of measuring impact of trends and greater discovery of the environment. She further used a BI function, and scenario modeling was critical in discovering deliverable insights.

Companies define intelligence differently depending on their needs and objectives; practitioners need to discern what is necessary in their company and workspace.

“Economic events are the number one thing that force change,” says Richard. Business priorities, customer needs, ability to spend, job loss—these circumstances have been influential in all industries: Healthcare, finance, and others—this will impact the way we all do our work.

Gagnon notes we are primed in the CI arena to take advantage of disruption; we know how to discover and react to change. Organizations are more often diving into strategy in creating new pockets of business and CI practitioners can help drive change at their organizations.

Much information is available online, and those in CI have been influenced as automated search bots deliver some information, but it is not necessarily accurate or thorough. Many companies will rely on these subpar insights and data that falls short. Remember in your work that this information is available to all; where is the opportunity? Know that things discovered on newsfeeds are not the full extent of important information; this understanding requires the practitioner share the limitations of these sources.

This will demonstrate the value of the practitioner; further, we need to learn to manage the expectations of those we work with.

The example of the big five consulting firms reveals that many do not trust other firms outside them, but there is opportunity for the competition to “discover what is about to happen.” Their success will depend on how practitioners market and present themselves.

Important considerations:

  • It is not just larger firms who are impacted;
  • Why pay for services we don’t need;
  • Similar niche service firms are replacing legacy corporations, especially for small businesses; and
  • Automation and AI are replacing analysts at a lower cost.

The evolution of insight is as follows: Pipeline and planning, benchmarking and gap analysis, and M&A strategic planning and corporate strategy. CI professionals are becoming pulled in new areas; we have changed conversation in manufacturing, for instance, in that buyers and the workforce change with technology. Transferable skills are important as employees are forced to transform or lose their jobs—CI can help identify potential for the future state, which is more important than quantifying the current state in forward-looking process.

Don’t repeat the past, says Gagnon. We err when we repeat ourselves and have the same conversations, an indicator that others have not “worked on” information you’ve previously delivered.

The research process has evolved from low tech, manual and ad-hoc building of templates; to higher-tech resources–LinkedIn as an example–and internet feeds, automated bots have had influence on the CI function—but everyone is tracking the same thing in these information venues. To drive value, our “innovation” will be to go back to doing things manually and deriving unique insights–we need to change the way we find and deliver information. We need to differentiate to deliver an advantage; subscribing to a local newspaper may be an advantage despite its “old school” methodology. We cannot find everything we need online, and we also need to talk with people “one on one.”

“You’re only finding the best of the easiest to find,” says Richard in quoting an expert. How do we determine we are finding the best, not the easiest? We can drown in data, but if we cannot sift through it, it is useless, she notes. Instead, know what are the best questions to ask, and determine which data can best answer those critical inquiries.

Know that insights are priceless—discover and relay the consequences of a variety of actions in your work.

“We must tell the full, honest, truth, and it takes guts,” says Richard. Be a risk taker, make sure you have the right data, be confident in it, and be ready to defend it.

Gagnon says it is important to refine your messaging. Her firm schedules “debate time” within her group to “minimize the noise in pushback.” She suggests such “fight time” is valuable. It generates ideas and allows co-workers to provide suggestion concerning the best ways to approach people and develop relationships.

Don’t be cliché, says Richard. Consider these presentation takeaways:

  • Outlining the risks is not the same as taking the risk.
  • Data isn’t insight.
  • Reporting data isn’t insight.
  • Saying what they don’t want to hear IS insight.
  • When things are changing, we cannot be silent.
  • Without the “why” you haven’t delivered any value.

How do you transform?

Unmute yourself: include key commentary, defend your recommendations, and socialize your findings.

Find your voice, says Gagnon. Find the unasked questions, conduct scenario modeling, and imagine the possibilities.