Monday, August 18, 2014

Crowdsourcing for Competitive Intelligence

Most companies keep track of competitors, – be it new product launches or their strategic initiatives.  They also hire external consultants who are knowledgeable to prepare Strength / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats (SWOT) for all of their competitors.

Given this background, let’s ask a question – can crowdsourcing be used to achieve this activity?  I was exploring this thought over the last few days. Let us examine this in more detail:

Crowdsourcing relies on distributed expertise and experts. 

The inputs that you are seeking are of high level and of a strategic nature, this is good as experts are able to contribute their opinions freely.

The reward for these challenges needs some experimentation before we get it right.  Since these questions are strategic by nature and experts are typically industry veterans, we need to have a model of paying for expertise by the hour to begin with. 

It is important to ensure that any confidential agreements are not breached while engaging with us.  So for example - experts who are currently in the roll of our competitors should not be approached or invited.  We are mainly looking for ex-employees or retired folks who have expertise to share based on their past experience.

So let us look at how this will translate in practice with an example:

Let us assume you are in charge of the Automobile Manufacturing business for cars.  You are interested in knowing how supply chain issues or best practices are implemented in your factory environment which results in efficient operations. 

You could put up a challenge clearing inviting experts from supply chain domain who have expertise in running car operations.  They can be either independent consultants or retired folks but should not be employed currently by your reputed competitors (Can mention names if particular).

Once the challenge is ready and communicated to the outside world, you should have a mechanism of screening and selecting experts. Since it is the internet and given the nature of the challenges, we should be prepared with a process to identify relevant profiles and eliminate the rest.  The standard way of achieving this is through the use of screening questions which are designed to weed out the non-relevant experts. (Preferably with a thank you note).

Once you find the relevant expert, engage with them to understand their standard consulting rates per hour and ideally agree on the number of hours this consulting engagement would need to meet the requirements.  Also have a clear understanding on what you are expecting out of this transaction.

These two considerations will lead you to a smooth transaction on both sides.  You can also have a standard set of terms and conditions which you both sign upfront before you start the engagement defining the scope of the engagement and any other terms of reference.  It is best to review the first set of terms and conditions with the legal team to avoid any surprises but over a period of time, it will be standard.

Once the assignment is completed and signed off, it is important to document the findings and more importantly review the new knowledge gained with an open mind and see how you can tweak (if required) and incorporate in your company environment. 

ideaken helps companies set up continuous competitive intelligence cell at your company using a crowdsourcing model.