Techniques for competitive intelligence in the information landscape

May 23, 2018
Barbie E. Keiser

Barbie is an information resources management (IRM) consultant practicing around the globe.

As information professionals we play important roles in their organizations’ competitive intelligence program, but often neglect applying that same rigor to our own information environments. Just like others in our organizations, librarians must understand precisely who their competition is, the library “owned” products and services provided to a client base, the words and mechanisms employed to persuade prospective clients, the degree of product/service satisfaction, and most importantly, the value your clients place on each.

Know your Information Environment

Appreciating the strength of producer-consumer relationships (and what it would take to break those bonds) is one of the responsibilities library staff assumes as it puts on its competitive intelligence (CI) hat. How loyal is each client and what could convince a target customer to explore what the library has to offer today? The goal is continuous improvement of the library’s product line and the development and delivery of targeted, customized, and personalized services to its user community.

The competitive intelligence cycle begins with a scan of the environment that is wide enough to catch the beginnings of any trend, and efficient enough to track the trend as it gains traction. At the same time, libraries need to identify their competition, both within and outside the organization, implementing an efficient mechanism to monitor what those entities are doing and how they are approaching the same target market with products and services.

Learn more about Competitive Intelligence for LIS professionals

Which Analytic Framework is Right for You?

Applying a series of analytic frameworks will give the organization a clear picture of how others may impinge on the library’s domain. The following frameworks can assist in developing an effective CI program for any library. They were chosen for their broad utility, ease of implementation, and the fact that each is structured to indicate a path forward.

PESTLE Analysis

PESTLE Analysis is a strategic framework for understanding macro-environmental variables that affect strategic planning: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental. For each factor, describe 3-6 ways in which change is likely to occur in the near-term. It is helpful to indicate the likely impact of each environmental dynamic (high, medium, or low) so effective strategies can be developed for those variables that will significantly affect your organization’s ability to perform.

Driving Forces Analysis

Driving Forces Analysis can help to determine factors motivating adoption of a library’s products/services, as well as value drivers for customers, and factors preventing or restraining expanded adoption (or switching products). Forces that might accelerate adoption, including the application of advanced technology, can often be identified by conducting Driving Forces. Once you have identified the relevant driving forces, indicate which are likely to have the greatest impact on your community; these should be monitored for signals of change.

Five Forces

Five Forces is an industry analysis developed by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard University. Porter’s framework models an industry as it is influenced by five forces: Rivalry among existing organizations; potential entrants and barriers to entry; substitute and complementary products; bargaining power of clients/customers; and bargaining power of suppliers. For example, libraries should note:

  • How publishers and database aggregators are approaching clients directly, bypassing the library
  • What new technologies (e.g., machine learning, natural language processing) are being deployed, and how these are enabling your organization’s IT department to offer a broader range of services, potentially encroaching on your space.

This analysis can help determine the relative position of each information organization, differentiation factors, and competitive advantage.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT describes the alignment or “fit” between an organization’s internal capabilities (Strengths and Weaknesses) and Opportunities and Threats in the external environment. Two variants of the SWOT can be helpful to employ: Relative SWOT compares the firm’s strengths and weaknesses relative to those of the immediate competitors; TOWS suggests strategies that use your organization’s strengths to take advantage of opportunities (by overcoming weaknesses) and help use your strengths to avoid threats (or minimize weaknesses).

These are just a few of the ways in which CI can be used to the library’s advantage. Others to explore might include Scenario Analysis, Four Corners, Benchmarking, and Best Practices. However, don’t use any of these techniques if you are not going to follow through by changing the products/services offered or the process by which they are put together.

Which analytic technique will you choose to begin your library’s CI program?

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  1. Porter, Michael E. (1979). How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy. Harvard Business Review, 59(2): 137-145.