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Trend Spotting or Why I Hired a CI Librarian: Part 2

Co-authored by Anh Huynh, the Competitive Intelligence Manager at Davis LLP

To recap from Part 1, you are asked by a lawyer to get everything about a company. We have pretty much decided that this approach is not the most effective. The requestor will simply have too much information and will not know how to proceed. See Part 1 of this article, to get the reasoning for such a statement.

On the other hand, given the same scenario (a lawyer asks: “Find out everything you can on company x), what would you do if you were a CI pro? You would try to identify the key intelligence topic (KIT) and generate key intelligence questions (QIKs) that will help you to focus your research and analysis. For the KIT, you would ask the most basic question of all CI questions: “what do you intend to do with the information?” This is the motherhood question, when in doubt use it. The answer: “I want to pitch to a prospective client for new business.” A few more rounds of Q&A, and you got yourself the following KIT: investigate legal needs of a new prospect; and KIQs: does the company have any immediate or long term needs for legal services and what are they? What angles would best serve the lawyer’s pitch? In sum, KITs are issues or topics that address the broader intelligence needs and can be used to drive your intelligence process while KIQs are the generated questions that will shape your data collection and analysis, to keep you on track and focused. Up till this point, you have the required skills in your librarian-toolbox to identify the KIT and develop the KIQs. Nothing more than an effective and in-depth reference interview. And if you can, always try to find out what the lawyer already knew, so you won’t waste his and your time providing known intelligence.

Once your KIT and KIQs are clearly identified, following the CI cycle as depicted below is a logical next step. A continuous process of planning, collecting, analyzing, disseminating, and obtaining feedback.

  • Planning and Direction: you will need to develop a plan and direction to complete the assignment. The major focus will be two-folds: (i) select the method(s) of analysis that will be used to convert information to intelligence to answer the KIQs, and (ii) identify sources of information that can provide the necessary data to be used/analysed by the selected methods. Step (i) is where you will need to build new skills and knowledge. There are a myriad of methods/models and it is important to select the right one to optimize value. Some of the more familiar models include SWOT analysis, PERT analysis, Porter’s Five Forces, Benchmark analysis, Marketing 4Ps, etc.
  • Collection (research): Conduct your usual due diligence research as per the framework of your selected methods. Instead of gathering all information you can find on the company as originally requested, your research would be more focused and you’d only collect data or information that can be used and analyzed by the selected models.
  • Analysis: Why analysis? Why research alone is not enough to provide the needed intelligence? Let’s review the nature of your KIQs. You will notice that there is no database, website, or syndicated news feed in the world that can answer any of these questions in their entirety. For instance, where can you find the company’s short/long term legal services needs? Or where would you uncover the “angles” for the lawyer’s pitch? It is only through analysis: a multi-step process by which you make judgments via qualitative or quantitative methods, that you can provide an intelligence product that is actionable. An example of a quantitative analysis could be a financial assessment or benchmark of the prospect, where you conducted a series of accounting ratios and compared them against its peers. The results of this analysis could help you to determine the prospect’s financial strength or weakness, which could lead to an “angle” that you’d like to propose to the lawyer (e.g., restructuring, M&A, private placements, etc.). A qualitative analysis could include a review and assessment of the prospect’s behavioural patterns or tendencies (profiling). Was it highly litigious due to the constant struggles between union and management? Was it unstable because of the high turnover of strategic management? What were its short and long term strategies? Identify its weaknesses so your lawyer can prepare to pitch for a cure, or determine its strengths so your lawyer can pitch for strategic alignment. li>
  • Dissemination: package and provide intelligence report to the lawyer. If there’s anything I can impart here, it would be “less is more”. In addition, keep three fundamental criteria in mind: actionable, timeliness, and relevance. Start with the conclusion, in point form and keep it short. The rest of your research and analysis can be detailed out in the body of your report, but to be frank the lawyers don’t care (and they shouldn’t) unless your conclusion is questionable then you have facts and sound analysis to back it up.
  • Feedback: always ask for feedback. When it comes to getting feedback, it’s like pulling teeth. My suggestion is to keep at it, once in a while you’ll bound to get a comment or two.

As you can see, the product that you provide in the scenario as a CI pro is quite different from the librarian’s. As a CI pro you would assert your judgement and offer a solution/suggestion based on the conducted research and analysis.

There are a number of excellent reads on the KIT/KIQ[1] and CI Cycle but (to my surprise) not freely available on the Internet. I have spent some time scouring the Internet hoping to find a few good (and free) articles on the CI Cycle to include in the footnotes for your reference, but came up empty. If you’re really interested, wanting to know more (a lot more) about implementing CI at a law firm, and don’t mind spending the money, Ann Lee Gibson’s new book: Competitive Intelligence: Improving Law Firm Strategy and Decision Making, published in late 2010 by The Ark Group/Managing Partner Magazine is highly recommended.


[1] Key Intelligence Topics: a process to identify and define intelligence needs

Rossina Malik and Robert Pestrin, Competitive Intelligence in Law Firms, TALL Newsletter, Vol. 27, no 4, Summer 2008, pp1, 4-10.

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