a new addition to the conference lineup for information professionals and
it's worth checking out.
The first Competia
Symposium was held on June 11-13, 2001, at the Chateau Frontenac in the
old-walled quarter of Quebec City. The relatively high $1,800 registration
cost was balanced by the setting, a historic, castle-like hotel complete
with stone towers, turrets, and a gorgeous view overlooking the St. Lawrence
The goal of the
conference was to enable strategic planning and competitive intelligence
(CI) professionals to learn and network in an intimate environment. The
230 participants mainly came from corporations and governments and held
job titles such as Directors and VPs of Strategic Planning or CI Managers
and Strategy Analysts. Attendance was international, with 40 percent from
the U.S., 30 percent Canadian, 20 percent European, and 10 percent from
the rest of the world. Exhibitors and sponsors included Factiva, Hoover's,
Infomart, Oxford Analytica, Webforia, Versalys, ZeroKnowledge, and the
Most of the 33
speakers came from industry, representing such companies as 3M, Boehringer
Ingelheim, Bombardier, BP Amoco, Compaq, Dow Chemicals, Hewlett Packard,
L'Oreal, Lucent, Lycos, Nestle, and Shell.
some of the presentations are included below, with excerpts and paraphrases.
For more complete details, see the Competia Web site at http://www.competia.com/symposium/,
where you can also purchase the conference proceedings for $300 Canadian.
Videotapes of some sessions may also be available by the time this article
Keynote Address: Dr. Michael
Porter on "Strategy: The New Learning"
opened Monday night with a reception for all participants. On Tuesday morning,
Competia president Estelle Métayer introduced Harvard Business School
professor, Dr. Michael Porter, author of The Competitive Advantage of
Nations. Dr. Porter addressed the conference via videolink from Boston,
expressing regret that he couldn't speak in person — or participate on
the post-conference golf team. His keynote presentation, "Strategy: The
New Learning," drew on ideas from a forthcoming book as well as from his
earlier works, Competitive Strategy and Competitive Advantage.
Dr. Porter began
by stating: "The more information in the economy, the more competitive
is the economy — so you in this room are doing very important work."
He then reviewed
some business basics:
1. The creation
of economic value depends on the ability to command prices greater than
the full costs of producing goods or services.
2. The only real,
appropriate goal of a firm must be superior long-term return on investment.
Dr. Porter continued, "If you can find a competitor who doesn't have this
goal you might have an opportunity." He explained that other goals — for
example, being big or technologically advanced, or even increasing shareholder
value — are dangerous, because the company can be drawn into other directions
such as trying to guess what the stock market might want.
When you analyze
a company, you must examine the company's entire value chain and disaggregate
the company into its parts. Companies are collections of discrete activities
in which competitive advantage resides.
A company's relative
performance is determined by either or both of these factors:
Effectiveness — Becoming more efficient by assimilating, attaining, and
extending best practices, i.e., running the same race faster than other
2. Strategic Positioning
— Creating a unique and sustainable competitive position, i.e., choosing
to run a different race than your rivals.
just try to compete on superior operational effectiveness — but that's
not enough. Companies must try to do both.
What is strategy?
It's not a race to one ideal position, but the creation of a unique and
valuable position, involving a different set of activities, and making
trade-offs between competing and choosing what not to do. Strategy isn't
vague; it's a very clear understanding of where you're going — both the
approach and the way of implementing the approach.
How do we distinguish
an actual strategic position from just competing on improvements in operational
effectiveness, also known as best practice competition?
1. It's a different
value proposition, a different mix of values delivered to different customers.
How do the activities in the value chain differ?
2. The company's
activities are tailored to the strategy, and these activities fit together
in an integrated system. Dr. Porter cited the example of Southwest Airlines,
whose features are supported by a web of interlocking activities (from
his article "What is Strategy," Harvard Business Rev., Nov/Dec 1996).
Southwest's low ticket prices are made possible by limited passenger service,
such as no meals, pre-assigned seats, or baggage transfers; its highly
productive ground crews are motivated by high employee compensation and
3. Another key
test of strategy is trade-offs or choices. You intend to do something differently
than your rival, unlike competing on best practices, in which your choices
are made for you. Dr. Porter said, "If you don't make trade-offs, why wouldn't
your competitors imitate you?" When understanding a company, it's revealing
to see what trade-offs a company has made — what markets it won't serve,
for example. Dr. Porter used the example of Neutrogena, which places its
soap in the health and drugs section, not in the cleaners and grocery aisles.
Neutrogena decided to forego cleaning, skin softening, and deodorizing
features because it considered these features incompatible with its goal
of safe, residue-free skin. This approach also necessitated higher costs
in manufacturing, skin research, and medical advertising.
4. A good strategy
has continuity. "You have to stick with it for a while and get good at
it." It's not that you will never change — the job is always to improve.
In fact, Dr. Porter continued, "I believe that if you have a strategy,
that enables you to change strategies faster."
policies are hard to do — not conceptually, but organizationally. It's
easiest for organizations to follow the path of best practice improvement
— copying competitors — and this path is often reinforced by management
and by capital markets. Companies will be pushed to copy a benchmark.
vision, learning, agility, flexibility, innovation, restructuring, mergers/consolidation,
alliances/partnering. These are all useful tools in the service
of strategy. You can also use them to see how your competitors might stumble.
When asked, "What
do you see coming next — or what should be coming next?" Dr. Porter replied,
"I hope we have another strategy fad. In the late '60s and early '70s everyone
had a big strategic planning fad, with 5-year plans, etc., but it failed
because it was a disconnected exercise. We didn't understand the field.
We see strategy with much more rigor than before. It's not a zero-sum game.
The customer can benefit — strategy is about everybody having a unique
Multiple Tracks, Multiple
keynote presentation, symposium attendees were offered their choice of
short presentations in five different tracks. Each track contained up to
five different half-hour talks, with participants encouraged to change
tracks and attend different sessions if they liked. Four of the tracks
were oriented mainly towards strategy: Strategic Thinking Process; Bridging
the Gap in CI — Analyze; What if CI stood for Customer Intelligence?; and
Great Analysis and Insight — Make Sure It Gets Implemented! What follows
represents highlights from some of the sessions in the fifth, research-oriented
track, "Cutting-Edge Tools and Techniques for Competitive Advantage." [For
presentation details, go to the Competia Web site at http://www.competia.com/symposium.]
arrangers attempted to keep the sessions on a strict schedule, delays occurred
almost inevitably. One attendee commented about tight timing, saying that
she had to take care walking in high heels on the fine marble staircases
of the Chateau Frontenac, and this alone made her late to some sessions.
Others said they would have preferred slightly longer sessions or some
way to attend more than one of the simultaneous sessions. Overheads for
the sessions were provided to participants in the thick Conference Proceedings
The first speaker
in the research track was former Searcher columnist ("Canada and
Beyond") and author, Ulla de Stricker, president of Ulla de Stricker Associates.
One memorable comment in her talk "Strategic Deployment of Information
Professionals (Librarians!) in Corporate Settings" was "My recommendation:
Hire a librarian — hire five!"
track speaker was Anne Henrich, vice-president of Washington Researchers.
She gave a well-attended presentation on "Advanced Hidden Company Research:
Digging Up Data on Divisions, Subsidiaries, and Private Companies." Here
are some of her excellent tips:
1. Look for information
in places where the company is a big fish in a small pond.
2. Read specialized
newsletters, called "House Organs," in the Standard Periodical Directory.
Offer to swap your newsletters for another company's. Or contact the local
library and ask them to request copies if they don't have them.
3. Government sources
— To figure out which ones, look for files where your company reveals its
own information. While you're at it, audit your own company's filings,
since people get lazy and often overcomply. Henrich used the example of
one company whose personnel gave the government updated information of
changes in a factory. The personnel sometimes submit more recent blueprints
with unnecessary information unredacted, such as where conveyor belts and
packaging equipment are located. Much can be gleaned from some of this
4. The best computer
system for hidden company research is ... the telephone!
5. When talking
with reporters or newspaper personnel, always ask first, "Are you on deadline?"
It makes you look savvy and they're more likely to take a callback.
6. Call reporters
from the smaller publications first. "I always call the reporter for The
Payphone News before the one for Forbes."
7. To conduct effective
a) Block your schedule
for about an hour, or from half an hour to 2 hours.
b) Have a limited
number of objectives — from three to no more than five or seven. Go for
c) Identify yourself
and tell them why you are asking.
d) In your introduction
give them a reason to care. They might want to know what you know, or defend
something they said.
e) End your introduction
with a soft question that they can answer.
f) Let silence
work for you.
Dr. Ian Goldberg,
chief scientist, ZeroKnowledge Systems, spoke on the topic "Don't Leave
Your Business Card Behind You — Protecting Your Company While Surfing the
Web." In reviewing the lack of privacy on the Internet, Dr. Goldberg made
the following points:
1. Hotmail accounts
now supply the sender's real domain name with all messages because Hotmail
got tired of getting subpoenaed.
2. Domain name
registrars offer a service selling a list of domain names that people have
searched but not purchased yet.
3. It's important
to protect not just the content of e-mail messages (e.g., by encryption),
but also the fact that there are messages going back and forth — between
companies that might merge, for example.
4. What do you
stand to lose if competitors acquire information on your company's patent
activities, domain name searches, aggregated surfing profiles of your staff,
or communications with partners, shareholders, customers, or employees?
Consider the impact this would have on your investments in intellectual
property or your strategic advantage.
Dr. Goldberg explained
ZeroKnowledge's Pseudonymous IP Networks, which enable real-time private
communication between users and outside Internet servers. Its system routes
users' Internet traffic through numerous Anonymous Internet Proxies before
eventually reaching the Internet server targeted. At the same time, it
mixes users' traffic with all other users on this worldwide network of
intermediate nodes. This process results in Internet traffic with untraceable
Interactive Training and Expert
After an excellent
lunch, attendees were offered their choice of eight 2-hour training or
expert studios. Topics included strategic planning simulations, business
war gaming, time management, data-mining, and giving more effective presentations.
Organizational Development consultant, Hay Management, spoke about "Influence
and Elicitation Strategies: Effective and Ethical Human Source Intelligence."
underscored the importance of Human Source Intelligence: "More than 50
percent of the critical information for organizations comes from human
sources." This was followed by an exercise in which participants were assigned
roles as CEOs, consultants, engineers, and technicians and had to negotiate
with each other to form companies and exploit a newly available technology.
Vanasse then discussed
the various persuasive techniques used by the role players in their attempts
to influence each other. Examples of some of these "Ethical Influence Strategies"
included bargaining, appealing to a common vision, and logical persuasion.
"Elicitation" as "the means by which, via dialogue, one obtains information
from another without raising suspicion." Some tactics used in elicitation
include expressing provocative, slightly positive or negative statements;
asking for advice; or appearing innocent or naïve. Elicitation is
often successful with people who are showing off or gossiping, who are
dissatisfied or have a tendency to correct others, or who underestimate
the importance of the information.
be easy and effective when used with people for whom sharing information
is part of their job, such as teachers, publicists, or salespeople — and
librarians?!. Elicitation may be more difficult to use effectively with
lawyers, accountants, and ex-military personnel.
Vanasse also mentioned
some cues that might tip you off that someone is using elicitation tactics
on you. Be alert if someone tells you white lies or truth mixed with lies,
slight or blatant exaggerations, or information which can't be verified.
He said, "If there's no way for you to verify it, it's probably not true."
The Envelope Please — The
Winners of the
First Annual Competia Awards were announced in a ceremony Tuesday night.
These awards were created "to guide professionals and executives in choosing
the best resources to excel in their work," said Estelle Métayer.
The judges, practitioners from leading companies in the field, chose the
following winners in five specified categories:
1. Most Insightful
Article or Book — Thriving in E-Chaos: Discover the Secrets of 20 Companies
That Have Conquered a Turbulent Marketplace by James D. Underwood (Prima
Publishing, June 2001)
2. Best in Class
Software or Tool — The Plumtree Corporate Portal by Plumtree Software
3. Best Information
Source — Skyminder by CRIBIS
4. Most Innovative
Strategic Planning Process — Gagan Agarwal, AG Communication Systems (a
Intelligence Champion — Caren Grandgenett, Jim Shearer, and Patricia Shirley
from American Century
Management Machismo and the
"Pretty Woman" Syndrome
The Competia Symposium
2001 continued Wednesday morning with three plenary sessions.
First James Cherry,
president of ALSTOM Transport Canada, spoke about "Implementing a Successful
CI Initiative in a Strategic Business Unit." In a very good general talk,
Cherry described the three-step approach used to establish CI at ALSTOM,
the world's second-largest rail equipment manufacturer.
1. A "Petit Journal"
of daily pertinent news was made available to every employee with a computer.
Topics covered included railroads, competitors, industry trends, suppliers,
HR topics, technology and others.
2. A "Players"
database was compiled, with data on competitors, clients (railroads, leasing,
shippers), and suppliers.
3. Background macroeconomic
data was gathered, with information on the markets, industries, and technologies
involved. Other information tools included the annual business plan, ad
hoc reports, client survey results, and salespeople trip reports.
Mr. Cherry explained
how this CI initiative successfully anticipated the current economic downturn
by flagging an announcement of 300 layoffs on 1/7/01. This analysis provided
significant assistance to ALSTOM's strategic planning process.
Next, Nadine Raymond,
Marketing Planning manager at Microcell Solutions, spoke on "Implementing
a CI Unit at Microcell Solutions." She summarized the lessons learned while
performing the basic steps of understanding the organization's needs, getting
buy-in, developing a game plan, and achieving your goals slowly but surely.
Raymond's parting words of wisdom could help achieve most corporate goals:
1) Perform an internal audit; 2) Keep your focus on your original plan;
3) Start with smaller objectives, gain credibility, and build on success;
and 4) Reevaluate customers' satisfaction.
The final plenary
speaker was Robert Greenhill, senior VP for Strategy, and president and
COO of Bombardier International. His topic was "Corporate Perspective on
CI from a World-Class Organization." He opened with an overview of Bombardier
and its market positions, ranging from first to third in the product sectors
of regional aircraft, business jets, personal watercraft, snowmobiles,
and rail passenger cars. Greenhill named specific competitors, and described
them in general as very competent and aggressive companies from all over
the world, varying from focused entrepreneurs to multi-billion-dollar behemoths.
that superficial knowledge of your competitors isn't enough. The key to
success is building a deep understanding of a competitor's likely behavior,
with profiles and historical actions of key business managers. You must
also understand the capabilities of their business systems as well as their
strategies and commitments, both explicit and implicit.
He gave the example
of Bombardier's previous situation with the diversified engineering and
construction firm Morrison Knudsen (MK), famous for building the Hoover
Dam. Bombardier had lost key contracts to MK and doubted its ability to
compete effectively. After a comprehensive review, including a reverse
engineering of MK's commitments — "What would it take for us to do these
contracts?" — and an analysis of their CEO's previous methods, Bombardier
concluded that MK was overextended. This conclusion was substantiated by
MK's later performance.
up his approach to CI with five points:
1. Focus on business
priorities. There's lots of fascinating information out there that has
nothing to do with the business.
2. Go beyond the
numbers to the people.
3. Put simple systems
in place to make CI an ongoing part of the business.
4. Make sure that
CI is driven by the people who are going to use it.
5. Verify critical
new information. Triangulate it. Try to make sure the information is correct.
In explaining this
last point, Greenhill compared the confusion that sometimes exists around
CI issues to "The Fog of War." That phrase comes from Carl von Clausewitz'
War — "War is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors
on which action is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty."
his presentation with three Key Cautions for CI Professionals:
1. Management Machismo
— Executives do not want to admit that they might not succeed and that
a competitor might be better or different. Also, companies may not want
to change the methods that made them successful in the first place — even
though the world or the market may have changed around them. Part of your
job is to help the company be self-critical. Previous companies failed
not because they didn't have the information, but because they didn't believe
2. Obsession with
existing competitors — Executives often have blinders about new
competitors that lead to underestimating them. Make sure that your radar
screen goes beyond the existing competitors list to have a cost and time-effective
monitoring of potential competitors.
3. Danger of uncontrolled
information — Part of the role of CI professionals is that when you understand
your business issues, you need to help your company recognize what information
must not get out to your competitors.
The symposium ended
with some comments from Competia president Estelle Métayer. Some
of the points she made included:
1. CI is alive
is central to CI. How do I get people to give me the information I know
they have and how do I forward it back to my organization?
3. Beware the "Pretty
Woman" Syndrome. Expanding on Greenhill's "Management Machismo" concept,
Métayer referred to Julia Roberts' character in the movie Pretty
Woman who, when asked, "What's your name?" said, "What do you want
it to be?" Métayer continued, "Even at the lower levels don't be
afraid to say what you believe, if you have the facts to back it up."
Attendees had a
variety of post-conference options Wednesday afternoon. They could choose
a tour of Quebec City, a round of golf with fellow participants, or, for
French speakers, attend three additional presentations.
Competia Is a Contender
Founded in October
1999, Competia has built a remarkable list of products, services, and clients
in a short time. Most know of the company through its flagship Web portal
for Strategy Planning and CI professionals, Competia.com. The site includes
a monthly online magazine and has more than 120,000 worldwide subscribers.
Other company offerings include the following:
The Competia Symposium
2001 succeeded on many levels. There was a lot of positive feedback for
the content, the speakers, and, of course, the location. One attendee said,
"Logistics-wise, operations went very smoothly — especially considering
this was their first symposium." Estelle Métayer said future programs
will spread out over more time, have different concentrations of topics,
and will continue to offer high-level presentations from world-class industry
Competia Express —
reviewed bookmark collections relevant to specific industries
Competia News — a
free monthly newsletter of CI and Strategy news
Competia Academy —
a series of training modules
Competia Facts on
Tap — an on-demand info brokerage
— two are planned for 2002, one in Europe and one in the U.S.
Competia Awards —
recognition for exceptional practitioners and tools
had opened the symposium by saying this was one of two new babies this
month. Attendees were quite impressed when they learned that she also had
a 3-week-old baby in the hotel room upstairs with her husband. In fact,
Competia is itself a rather young organization. It will be interesting
to see how IT will grow! Next year's meeting will be in Boston.
Duberman's e-mail address is email@example.com.