A new survey by advisory firm Fuld & Company finds that companies in Israel, India, Sweden and Brazil are on average using more sophisticated competitive intelligence technology than ones in the United States, Great Britain, France or Germany.
In general, competitive intelligence software programs collect, analyze and display information around discrete topics, such as monitoring a company's reputation by gathering message board comments or keeping up-to-date on competitors' pricing. They are considered a cousin to BI (business intelligence) systems.
For its study, Fuld & Company used information from a database it has been building since 2006. It contains responses from more than 480 companies regarding various aspects of their competitive intelligence strategies.
Fuld asked respondents to rank their competitive intelligence technology on a scale ranging from 1 (nothing specialized in use beyond search) to 4 (a "fully developed" technology purchased or developed in-house)
The firm's president, Leonard Fuld, didn't have a concrete explanation for the usage-by-country results, for which a specific numeric breakdown was not available Friday.
"Maybe it's just a curiosity item," he said. "If I can interpret it, if you've got a small company in Israel who doesn't have a pervasive workforce around the world, maybe they've got two major markets for their product, so they rely on the technology because they don't have as many people on the ground."
But no matter how advanced a given offering's features might be, human beings still need to analyze the results, he said: "You can't be lazy with these systems. The worst sin in intelligence is that someone hands you an analysis and you don't explore the cause of that analysis."
Competitive intelligence software is generally managed by an assigned group within a company and used for tasks ranging from war-room planning sessions to more pedestrian efforts, such as a daily internal newsletter, according to Fuld.
"It's not as if the technology is going to change a company's direction, but it will help shape how they view the world," he said. "When these packages work well, they're very good at filtering the noise out of the marketplace for management."
Competitive intelligence products are becoming more pervasive in companies, according to Fuld.
"Ten years ago, they were pretty much desk-jockey packages. You bought a seat or three seats, and the [competitive intelligence] group managed their database. ... More of the packages today are being sold to broader sections of the company."
Annual costs can range from US$50,000 to $300,000, depending on the number of seats and level of customizations, Fuld said.
The study, which is available at no charge on Fuld's Web site, also includes reviews of competitive intelligence products from vendors such as Brimstone and Comintell.
The reviews are based on a series of criteria, including the software's search, retrieval and cataloging capabilities for information both inside and outside the firewall; how effectively it collects more subjective information -- "human intelligence" -- such as postings on message boards and news groups; and its analytic and reporting functionality.
Fuld & Co. found no clear winner, as the packages overall performed better or worse in certain areas than others.
The study also notes that many companies do not use a dedicated tool, instead applying platforms such as Lotus Notes/Domino to the competitive intelligence issue.
In coming years, competitive intelligence software will likely see more blending into other categories, such as CRM (customer relationship management) and business-oriented social-networking sites such as LinkedIn, Fuld predicted: "Dedicated technologies may not exist on their own."