ONLINE, January 2000
Copyright © 2000 Information Today, Inc.
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Featured Books this Month:
Online Competitive Intelligence: Increase Your Profits Using Cyber-Intelligence by Helen P. Burwell. (ISBN: 1-889150-08-8; 1999; softcover; 464 pp.; $25.95) Available from Facts on Demand Press, PO Box 27869, Tempe, AZ 85285-7869; 800/929-3811; http://www.brbpub.com.
This hefty book provides a wealth of information for both new and experienced researchers trying to find out about companies around the globe. In fact, there is so much information packed into this book that one can easily get lost. The detailed table of contents is necessary. I found myself referring back to it frequently to determine the context of what I was learning. The first few chapters may be confusing to new users, as data types and sources are mentioned without explanation until a later chapter. However, if you stick with it, all becomes clearer in the end.
The first part of the book explains what competitive intelligence is, some basics about the resources available, and what you can learn. The second part provides details of resources available online, covering both free and commercial databases available through the Internet or via dial-up connection. The third part is my favorite, since it covers how to organize the information you are gathering. This section includes a handy chart to help you match sources with the type of data you are seeking and a nice chapter on doing industry studies--highlighting the bits you need to find and offering suggestions for where to find them.
The appendices of resources take up nearly half the book. These include a diverse collection of Web site addresses covering loosely-related topics. Some areas have many bookmarks, others are curiously sparse. The author claims the bookmarks are updated on her Web site at http://www.burwellinc.com, but no links were there when I checked. With such an extensive list of bookmarks, there really should be an online version. Additional appendices cover locating the database that has what you want, and then which vendor, producer, or Web site supplies the database.
The biggest thing missing from this book is a sense of how competitive intelligence fits in with the overall management strategy of an organization. It provides more practical advice for conducting online research, but fails to present the entire scope of competitive-intelligence possibilities. You need to read the following book to get one version of the management point of view.
The WarRoom Guide to Competitive Intelligence by Steven M. Shaker and Mark P. Gembicki. (ISBN:0-07-058057-x; 1999; hardcover; 255 pp.; $27.95) Available from McGraw-Hill, 11 West 19th Street, New York, NY 10011; http://www.books.mcgraw-hill.com.
This book exists on a different level, yet covers the same broad topic as the previous book. The authors come from the national intelligence community, and apply the same strategies to help organizations compete in the global marketplace. They view competitive intelligence with a battlefield mentality, and propose setting up a "war room" to coordinate the collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence.
While I recommend that all those involved in competitive intelligence read this book, I certainly don't agree with everything in it. In particular, the authors' view of librarians as a miniscule and menial part of the overall process really irks me. But I think this reflects an all-too-common management point of view. And, they clearly prefer the Internet to commercial databases or other traditional published sources. But this may be due to the fact that they are primarily going after information from and about individuals within targeted organizations.
What I think is useful is to get an understanding of a thought process that is far removed from a traditional library point of view. Even the terminology evokes cloak and dagger--you set up a war room, identify sources (people) in your organization who have access to targets (other people who have the answer you seek) and you elicit the information you want, all coordinated by a quarterback. The chapter on how to set up a war room at a conference to gather the required intelligence will have many librarians horrified, but there is some validity in their methods. And I think those in a business environment will identify with the corporate need to know.
Also of interest are the techniques used to analyze and present the data. Data visualization is a key component. In fact, the war room is really just a secure place to be able to put the increasing mounds of data on display, to aid the analysis and extraction process. Computer technology increasingly plays a part in helping to interpret the raw data and turn it into information and finally intelligence.
The last part of the book discusses security issues and counter-intelligence. I think many organizations could benefit from tighter security, but I draw the line at deliberate misinformation campaigns.
For those interested in pursuing competitive intelligence, reading this book may help professionals in the library arena develop a more holistic approach to the entire realm of competitive intelligence, of which online searching is just one small component.
How to Conquer the World: A Directory of 8,000+ International Business Resources on the Internet by Garrett Wasny. (ISBN:0-86587-642-8; 1999; softcover; 685 pp.; $69.00) Available from Government Institutes, 4 Research Place, Rockville, MD 20850; 301/921-2300; http://www.govinst.com.
If you are interested in international trade, and want to find information on the Web, this is your one-stop guide. As the title suggests, there are over 8,000 sites listed, each with a short description and URL. Of these, only 1,100 or so are American-based. The majority of sites are from the country of interest, or they are sites of various foreign embassies or trade missions.
Each major geographic region of the world has its own chapter, and within each chapter the resources cover general region guides, and then specific country lists. For each country, the listings include country-specific internet search tools, media, market guides, trade assistance, and a listing of trade representatives. The author suggests that you can get a better perspective on a country by checking out a variety of information sources, particularly those from different countries with an interest in the area.
Unlike other listings of Web sites that I've seen, this one focuses on trade and the resources required to engage in international trade. In fact, Chapter Two is devoted to Web sites that provide functional trade information--from customs to shipping to travel to law, over 400 sites to help you through the maze of customs and regulations. And the first chapter lists tips and sites for dealing with the Internet and trade, covering a wide variety of topics from Web design to statistics.
As with all books that list URLs, there is a great danger of out-of-date links. Although the author does have a companion Web site (http://www.conquertheworld.com), it does not offer updates to the book or an online version of the links. However, one of the appendices does offer tips for finding pages that have moved or changed their URL.
Overall, this is a handy book to have on your shelf if you ever have to answer questions on trade or business in any specific region or country outside the U.S.
Leading the Wired Organization: The Information Professional's Guide to Managing Technological Change by Mark Stover. (ISBN: 1-55570-357-7; 1999; softcover; 363 pp.; $49.95) Available from Neal Schuman Publishers, 100 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013; 800/584-2414 or 212/925-8650; http:// www.neal-schuman.com.
This book is aimed at information professionals who work in a "wired" organization, yet have not yet used, or do not feel comfortable with, the technology. And, judging from the title, these people are also supposed to be leading the organization. Is this possible? The librarians I know are far beyond this book, but I'm sure there are Luddites in every profession, and if you know one, give him or her this book.
The book does a good job of explaining technologies such as email, search engines, Web pages and "leading-edge" stuff like digital libraries and push technology. The focus is on how you use these, not on the technical aspects. In fact, throughout the book the focus is much more on the humans than the computer.
Each chapter starts with a real-life scenario that ends with questions that are never answered. Was Harold justified? How should Jennifer proceed? We may never know. Each chapter ends with a section called In Our Own Voices, which quotes responses to a questionnaire relating to technology use in libraries posted on the author's Web site. (The questionnaire is listed in the appendix.) He got 40 responses, and I fear he quotes them all in some places. Several of the quotes are entertaining and enlightening, but we really don't need to hear all the replies.
The best chapters in the book are those that deal with the human-computer interaction. You may learn something about the psychology of technology and strategies used to improve the interaction.
I'm hesitant to recommend this book to our well-versed readers of ONLINE, but if you know of any struggling colleagues, sneak the book onto their desks.
Deborah Lynne Wiley (email@example.com) is Principal of Next Wave Consulting, Inc. and HARDCOPY Editor.
Comments? Email letters to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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