Technology has become so integral to business that the first question companies ask when starting or growing a competitive intelligence (CI) function is, "Which software should we purchase?" My advice for insurance companies, brokers and advisors is to wait until your function is well underway so that you build or purchase a tool that supports the process and infrastructure you've established to support your intelligence needs.
One of the most common mistakes is integrating software into the CI process too quickly. When that happens, companies are forced to mimic CI processes to match software requirements. Instead, the reverse should be the practice.
In fairness to software firms, many good information technology tools can play a role early in the development of a CI function. Many software packages or ASP models can find, aggregate, store, and index information. Such tools can be tremendously valuable, as they save considerable time and effort when they are deployed and used properly. Moreover, CI-specific software has improved significantly over the last few years, and today available technologies can pinpoint research and ferret out hard-to-reach information. This can save time when researching and reporting on industry issues, players and trends. Timely and good competitive information can feed into competitor assessments, renewal plans, and the annual strategic planning and budgeting process.
The same, however, does not hold true for the analytical part of creating competitive intelligence. I can't overemphasize that when it comes to analyzing a competitive situation, technology options are limited. This may come as no surprise, since technology is not a substitute for sound thinking and common sense. As valuable as software can be to help manage information, it cannot:
- Automatically generate findings and conclusions
- Replace judgment and common sense
- Create actionable intelligence
- Think for you
It's what you see and perceive in the field and in meetings with insurers, customers, and industry influencers that forms the basis of sound intelligence analysis. Remember that senior executive users rarely rely on technology to acquire their intelligence; they rely on people, their networks and confidants.
The ideal solution for organizing and managing competitive information may require piecing together different software components and tools, both CI and non-CI. It is helpful to review and leverage software that is currently utilized within your firm. Examples of software that can be tapped into for intelligence purposes can include tools that manage the sales process, trip reports to distributors and/or insurers and CRM.
Remember not to rush into a software decision, but instead to wait until your function is established. In time, it will become obvious what your most pressing technology needs are to support your intelligence efforts, and whether the right course of action is to build or buy a solution or leverage an existing one.
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