This is a series of six blog posts designed to provide analytical tools that will help competitive intelligence practitioners link CI to strategy.
If It Is Good Enough for the CIA…
While serving in Kuwait as a counter-terrorist agent for the US Government, one of my responsibilities was to detect, evaluate and report on potential terrorist threats in the region. As a source operations specialist, we did this through HUMINT (Human Intelligence) and analysis. One important aspect of our work included assessing and ranking potential threats to US interests. When assessing a threat, it was key for us to evaluate the intent, capability and timeliness of the threat. Intent without capability, or capability without intent, would of course lower the threat level assigned. Several years after transitioning from government service to competitive intelligence, I discovered that this relatively simple analytical tool could be used to help support my clients’ early warning programs. Threat Indicator Analysis (TIA) provides a simple, yet effective way to quickly evaluate and rank a potential competitive threat, enabling clients to allocate appropriate resources to monitor and respond to competition. TIA can be applied to companies, products or competitor actions.
There are four Key Indicators one should address when evaluating competitive threats:
What is the intent of the competitor? What are their goals? What is their strategy? Intent variables range depending on context. This first step may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often I see clients getting worked up over a “potential” competitor threat before the actual intent of the competitor is even verified. Without measuring Intent, every large company with resources could be viewed as a competitive threat. Just because a company could be a threat, does not mean they are a threat if they have no intent to compete in your space.
Do they have the capability and capacity to achieve the intent? Just because a competitor wants to do something does not mean they can pull it off. Once you have established Intent, it is important to assess their Capability to act on that Intent. Measuring Capability can be tricky; every industry has at one time or another been disrupted by a start-up that seemingly came out of nowhere. When evaluating Capability, do not just examine what capacity they have today, but also be sure to consider how quickly they could expand or ramp up their Capability. Things to consider here would include: partnerships, funding sources, contract manufacturing / sales, etc.
What is the Timeline of the intended actions: immediate, near-term, long-term? Perhaps a competitor has the Intent and the Capability but for whatever reason they have no near-term plans for competing in your space. While it would be foolish to ignore the threat all together, it might be prudent to concentrate your resources on near-term threats. If there is no Intent or Capability then obviously Timeline is irrelevant.
Each Indicator should be assigned a value. It is important that the values be standardized to ensure each TIA outcome is comparable to past and future analysis. Values can be as simple as 10 = High, 1 = Low. It is a good idea to develop examples of what would be considered a 10, a 5 or a 1 in order to put the evaluation in context of your organization. Don’t get too caught up in defining the variables; TIA is not meant to be a quantitative analysis. Variables are only important in that they help benchmark competitive threats.
It is important to remember that this process should be fluid and ongoing. A competitor’s Intent, Capability and Timeline can change quickly; neglecting to revisit competitive threats frequently can lead to missing key competitor indicators. It is also important that you evaluate the threat indicators based on the most comprehensive and up to date intelligence available. Secondary research combined with robust primary research can ensure your TIA is as accurate as possible.
Once a competitive threat has been identified, the next step is to evaluate the level of the threat. The Threat Matrix tool uses Impact and Probability to measure the overall threat and can be helpful in prioritizing threats.