We’ve all heard of Google’s recent trouble in China. Yet, how many of us thought about why that happened or what led Google — an otherwise aggressive company — to the verge of pulling out of, what is arguably, the largest market in the Eastern hemisphere or even the world? How many of us related news clips that we read about in the papers or saw on television — that told us about China’s quickly straining relations with the US on issues relating to trade, human rights, climate change, control of global natural resource reserves and Darfur – to this issue? How many of us connected the dots?
The business of competitive intelligence is like that. If one analyzes events that have passed, one always comes up with the question—why didn’t we see that happening? Established business leaders routinely fail to spot or leverage disruptive technologies, paradigm shifts or changing customer preferences. The dots of information on value of digitalizing information for the Web and that customers would use the ubiquitous mobile phone for a lot beyond just phone-calls, were connected by very few companies who came and displaced market leaders in an environment where these dots were for all to see and use. This proves that developing intelligence is not as easy as just having all the information.
Why does intelligence fail? Or, what does it take to connect the dots? It is simple. It needs to be acted upon with a dose of common sense. If its so simple, then why don’t decision makers act on intelligence? IMHO, it is because of two factors.
One, specific intelligence is very hard to come by in real time. The dots exist, and while they are easy to connect post-facto, it is exceptionally difficult to do that in real-time. Even extremely predictable cyclical events such as economic volatility left experts unprepared.
Two, even when dots are connected properly, there is always a probability of the event not happening as expected, or not happening at all. This leads to a questioning of analysts’ credibility since after a decision, the buck often stops at the CEO [or head of state] who are not willing to appear foolish on too many occasions. Intelligence analysts are like doctors. They read signs; use their tools, training and experiential knowledge to diagnose situations. Some are gifted and some are not. Their diagnosis is used by decision makers to decide on courses of action. But like complex diseases, no diagnosis can be truly conclusive. There are always elements missing, and each new piece of information (dot) has the potential to transform the diagnosis, sometimes drastically.
To remain competitive, companies must be in a constant state of readiness. The last dot to connect always becomes apparent at the last minute and that is not the time that company boards can meet to decide whether the pattern emerging out of the connected dots requires to be acted upon or not. Dots of information can come from any source both within or outside the organization. For seamless information flow to join the dots, organizational heirarchy has to break down. This could be an important reason why newer age companies are capable of joining dots quicker and hence being more competitive.
Once the organization decides that dots and joining them are important, various activities can be kick-started that can help employees at every level remain agile and alert to competitive changes in the environment that can have impact on the organization. Competitive simulations offer new approaches and capabilities to help fix many of the shortcomings associated with intelligence failure. For example, competitive simulations are specifically designed to identify action steps that help companies and products win in the market place. Competitive simulations reflect the new era that the pharmaceutical industry has entered. These simulations take a holistic approach to competing, incorporating multiple disciplines and functions, various stakeholders, emerging market factors, and different types of competitors and competitive threats. Diligently practising these simulations can place a company at significant competitive advantage.
Lets take some recent industry developments. India enters the G-20; the US promises technology transfer sops to India as part of the Indo-US nuclear deal and also after the Copenhagen Climate Summit; GE, Philips and other MNCs talk about “reverse innovation”; scientists help India to become the 6th country in the world to indigenously crack the human genome; Indian government announces that every citizen of the country will have a unique ID; Apollo hospital group announces that it will assist the project to manage health data; pharma majors pursue “pharmerging markets’ strategy; World Development Report says that stronger anti-biotics are needed to tackle infectious diseases across the world, including HIV/AIDS and swine-flu; and many other such announcements.
Connect these dots and see the pattern that emerges!