Competitive Business Intelligence, Harnessed Through Collaboration And CEP, Harvested Across The Cloud

Jameskobielus_3By James Kobielus

Sometimes ideas for blog posts flow out of everyday conversations with colleagues. I want to thank Leslie Owens and Matt Brown for stimulating the following thought train.

The external competitive environment is the cloud where opportunities and threats hang, sometimes latent, sometimes looming. So it only makes sense that enterprises will outsource more of the competitive surveillance to the cloud of external resources, such as analyst firms, third-party market intelligence subscription feeds, social networking, Web 2.0, etc.

Of course, enterprises realize they don't dare outsource the competitive intelligence function entirely. That explains why they maintain research staff, tools, portals, and informational resources in-house. Mostly, these competitive intelligence teams monitor the prevailing market conditions that impact on their companies' core businesses. But, to a great degree, they also serve as an early-warning system helping their organization respond to specific breaking events -- i.e., the "disrupters" -- that threaten to capsize the corporate boat.

Recognizing this perennial "disrupter pre-emption" requirement, enterprises are concerned with best practices for setting up event-driven competitive intelligence operations. These best practices should help them survey the external horizon more comprehensively and proactively. Best practices should also help them foster, harness, and harvest internal collaboration among competitive-intelligence subject matter experts.

Essentially, competitive intelligence operations of this sort practice CEP in the following senses that I described in a previous post:

  • Each event may be quite complex in its own right, standing for a linked set of data updates, application state transitions, and process status changes (NEW NOTE: a "disrupter" is any extremely complex, perhaps way too vague, but still undeniably important "event" -- disrupters aren't "tagged" as such -- and they may not be easily identified before, during, or after the fact -- maybe, hey Leslie, on-the-fly social tagging is the best way to approach this squishiness).
  • Each event-reliant decision agent (e.g., end user) may access, interact with, and/or consume events through a complex interface (dashboards, analytics, semantic layer, etc.), across multiple devices (desktop, laptop, Blackberry, etc.) and have a complex event-enriched streaming  "experience" (NEW NOTE: competitive intelligence groups make use of the full range of portals, e-mail, IM, search engines, social networking, wikis, blogs, podcasts, workflow, alerts/notifications, etc.).
  • Each event-reliant decision agent may be a complex creature in its own right with its own complex, convoluted, squishy decision-making methodology -- i.e., an individual human being with their own habits and cognitive/psychological dispositions; or a group making decisions collectively and collaboratively through workflow, or social networking; or a half-human/half-automated workflow behaving in the herky-jerky manner one would expect from a split-personality decision agent; or a completely automated orchestration of applications triggered by rules engines, etc.) (NEW NOTE: competitive intelligence teams are very human teaming environments, at heart -- everybody is a "sentinel" on the "lookout" for critical events while others are "sleeping" or attending to something else).

Tying in another observation from that earlier post, I expect that CEP for I&KM (i.e., real-time, event-triggered, under-deadline, continuously-refreshing dashboard-sharing collaboration applications) will play a key role in event-driven competitive intelligence everywhere. CEP, hence BI, will be used to beef up organizations' in-house competitive intelligence/surveillance function, supplementing (hopefully not replacing) the outsourced competitive intelligence/surveillance they get from analyst firms such as Forrester.

In such an environment, the self-service, in-house research portal's the chief presentation layer, and BI operates as an intelligence source and/or target accessible via the portal, with real-time/near-real-time data integration approaches (e.g., ESP, CDC, MOM, trickle-feed ETL, etc.) providing the low-latency plumbing to deliver those feeds to the DW/BI/portal/preso front-end.

The BI vendors are laying the foundation for this emerging best practice. If you look at what vendors such as Business Objects are doing, they're making more external, commercial, competitive intelligence feeds accessible, via partnerships with content aggregators/publishers, from their platforms (e.g., http://www.businessobjects.com/news/press_release.asp?id=20070521_006524). They're also providing text mining/analytics-integrated tools (e.g., http://www.businessobjects.com/news/press_release.asp?id=20070924_006494) for searching across internal and external, unstructured/semi-structured data sources. And they're expanding the social networking and other collaborative features, and mashup offerings, for bringing together real-time feeds of internal/external data/events (e.g., http://www.businessobjects.com/news/press_release.asp?id=20080313_00001).

Business Objects is a bit ahead of the industry curve on all these things. But it's clear that, as market leader, they've laid down the chief challenge for all BI vendors, to make their offerings more pervasive in competitive intelligence use cases, and also to harvest the informational resources of the Web 2.0 cloud to the max.