Questions to Ask Competitive Intelligence Software Providers

One of my colleagues called today and we spoke about what you might be looking for when you team up with a competitive intelligence software provider. I have links to a few of my favorites here. Rather than extolling the virtues of individual providers, in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here are some practical questions you want to ask a prospective service provider:

How does your system integrate with what I already have installed at various places in my company? Think that many in Sales use, SAP or Oracle systems. How does this software work with what people are already familiar with? Can the service provider provide a mask that makes it transparent to the user? Can this hang off our CRM? What will the CI software enable you to do that you can’t do today? Why?

How does this software enable competitive intelligence: monitoring, collection, dissemination and analysis? Frankly there isn’t a system out there that I know of that supports the entire competitive intelligence (CI) process. You need to decide what is the most important part of the CI cycle that the software will enable. Is translation built in for global organizations? How will it support multiple languages? Or do you build separate software apps in the native tongue and not support translation?

Many companies use CI software to both collect and disseminate intelligence. As a CI professional, I look for a solution that will free up my time to be a critical thinker, to do the analysis, prepare persuasive communication from what I can deduce, and connection with my users and providers of CI–in some cases maintaining that relationship in others finding and building relationships.

In that same vein, what is involved in keeping the information flow up-to-date? Does the software have crawlers that continue to find new information? How does it accommodate and integrate findings from traditional web 1.0 and social networks? Can my clerks be set up to input that timely information? Does it include any audience opinions such as a favorable rating versus slamming your products? How far back do I want to go in storing information? How do I insure that the date of the information is clearly identified so readers know? Do we have guidelines around copyright?

What is the balance between Push and Pull? Can my system users decide which areas they want to follow and have information pushed to them? How will the information be organized so people can easily find it? How does keyword searching work to locate information?

How easy is this system to use? Is any aspect of it visual? How easy is it for people to add information? Can they do it on the fly, such as from a trade show when they learn new intelligence? How do people correct mistakes and outdated information? Can I use the software for CI project management? How can people communicate back and forth through this software? Can we locate experts by topical area, both internal and external to the company?

What is the system security? How do I keep my strategic information away from Sales, for example? How do I keep all that Sales chatter away from R&D and strategic planners who might not be interested? How many levels of security does the system have?

What is your company’s culture? Are people going to engage with a CI software application or do you already have too many apps for people to process? Timing is everything. If your company is receptive to a CI software solution, where do you test it? How long do you test it? What will be the measure of success that will cause you to expand its usage? How will you train users on how the system works and the benefits of using it?

I believe that companies who can react to and predict the marketplace in real-time, while also having a meaningful long-term strategic plan, will be the winners in this global competitive environment. While you need to look out in the future with your crystal ball, you also need to be flexible enough to react to what is happening in the present moment, and be nimble enough to change, adapt and be opportunistic.

So, what questions would you add to this list?

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9 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Competitive Intelligence Software Providers”

  1. Hi Ellen

    This is a great post – although aren’t you actually saying that there is no software out there that you’d feel comfortable even suggesting, as I don’t think any product out there will do all of these. (BTW I tend to agree with you on this).

    I’ve spoken in the past to a number of providers – and unless you are willing to spend mega-$£€ you won’t get something that will fulfil even a fraction of these questions.

    The problem however I think different. Flip it around and ask what you want to achieve from a software solution? What’s YOUR objective for the software? Then ask the software provider to explain how they will match this exactly without you having to tweak your objective to fit in with their system, at a price you can afford. They questions you suggest may be part of it – but may not.

    For example, one client wanted a system that would record intelligence from anybody in the company – so everybody had to have access to input intelligence. This was also to include data feeds. There would be a moderator to ensure that what was entered looked valid and to deduplicate it, code it so it was indexed, etc. and ensure it could be found easily. There was also a need for multi-level password protection – as you mention. The main aim was to create a database of all competitive knowledge – competitors, products, services, trends, etc. so that key managers could interrogate the data to find what they needed to know.

    They saw a number of providers but none could do this at a reasonable cost – a key sticking point was granting access to the system for several thousand employees (as charging seemed to be based on number of users – which was defined as people inputting and/or accessing data rather than editorial control, etc.).

    In the end, they built a system themselves using a Wikipedia type approach. For a large organisation this may prove to be cost-effective as such systems are familiar to most people (so little training is needed), and enterprise search gives facility to store, index & search all sorts of documents, images, etc. (similar to what google does) – and so again, users familiar with search engines were familiar with the system. The key work was setting up Wiki templates for the key topic areas that became the sources for reports (if the template itself didn’t suffice).

  2. Dear Ellen,

    As you know, Digimind has been in the business of developing CI tools since 1999 and in order to secure our product roadmap we interview hundreds of CI professionals. Those questions are gathered into the Digimind CI benchmark guideline (link below).

    As of today we currently have 115 items CI pros are expecting in an ideal CI platform and counting. Next release of the document is expected Sept. 2011 and will include social media specific questions: how to identify KOL? How to measure influence? How to analyze social media in connection with other sources?

    In that regard, we can add the questions we collected over 12 years from hundreds CI practitioners to the list you started above.

  3. Hi Arthur,

    I agree that there is not a “one size fits all” solution in this space. The important thing is for those in the purchasing mode to understand clearly what CI software systems can and cannot do before they purchase.

    People need to ask the questions to see if a CI software solution is the right one in the first place. Companies have varying goals and expectations, but if you don’t ask the right questions, you may end up with a solution that disappoints.

    I still think that today more than ever, companies do need some form of at least competitive marketplace monitoring, and a way to capture this so they can be both responsive and proactive.



  4. Hi Chris,

    I will look forward to your Sept 2011 update to items CI pros are expecting in a CI software solution.

    I merely was providing a good, practical starting point in this blog, but it does come from about 30 years of experience, and the knowledge that one size does not fit all!



  5. Hi Ellen,

    Thank you very much for the article. It gives an overview of potential issues that companies need to look at. Some of the issues are for big enterprises as well as for SMEs. I would however, consider the 3rd group of users which are individuals who uses intelligence.

    Thinking about them, I find that there a grate number of professionals utilize free internet tools. There are so many that is not possible to list all of them. However, looking to the Google tools I came up with dozens of tools applicable to CI. Understanding how these tools are utilized was my objective. The result of a research “Google Tools for CI” I finalized in June 2011 can be downloaded from:

    Best regards,
    Alessandro Comai

  6. Hi Alessandro,

    You’re right: I was focusing on enterprise users since that’s who has the budget to buy CI software solutions. However, I also know a number of enterprise customers who buy a CI software product and then never use it or let it get out of date, since they hadn’t thought how much time and effort it would take to keep it up to date.

    I enjoyed your Google study from earlier this summer. The various Google products are a decent source of information searching and monitoring. Interestingly enough I use Bing more often these days for searching as I believe the search results are more relevant than Google.

    Thanks for sharing,


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