To survive, organizations need to produce and process information about their environment, for instance, about customers, competitors, suppliers, governments, or all kinds of socioeconomic and technological trends. The process of obtaining this information is often called competitive intelligence (cf Fleisher & Blenkhorn, 2001; Kahaner, 1997; Vriens, 2004). An important stage in the competitive intelligence process is the collection stage. In this stage, one has to determine relevant sources, access them, and retrieve data from them (cf Bernhardt, 1994; Kahaner). For each data class, many possible sources are available, and determining the right ones is often difficult. Moreover, accessing sources and retrieving data may require a lot of effort and may be problematic (cf Cook & Cook, 2000; Fuld, 1995; Kahaner, 1997). In this chapter, we present a tool for supporting the effective and efficient use of sources: the source map. In essence, a source map links data classes to sources and contains information about these links. This information indicates the adequacy of sources in terms of ease of access, ease of retrieval, and usefulness of the retrieved data. A source map can support the selection of appropriate sources and it can support the assessment of the overall adequacy of available sources.
The process of competitive intelligence is often described as a cycle of four stages (the intelligence cycle; see Kahaner, 1997; Vriens, 2004). This cycle comprises (a) the direction stage (in which the organization determines about what aspects in the environment data should be collected), (b) the collection stage (where sources are determined and data are collected), (c) the analysis stage (in which the data are analyzed to assess whether they are useful for strategic purposes), and (d) the dissemination stage (where the data are forwarded to decision makers; Bernhardt, 1994; Gilad & Gilad, 1988; Herring, 1999; Kahaner, 1997; Sammon, 1986). The collection stage is considered to be the most time-consuming stage (e.g., Chen, Chau, & Zeng, 2002) and if it is not performed carefully, many difficulties arise (e.g., too much time spent on search, collection stage leads to irrelevant data, information overload; see, for example, Cook & Cook, 2000; Chen et al.; Teo & Choo, 2001; Vriens & Philips, 1999). For successfully carrying out collection activities, knowledge about what sources contain what kind of data and knowledge about how to approach these sources (metaknowledge regarding the collection of data) would be very helpful. This chapter presents a tool to structure and deal with this metadata: the source map.
To collect data about the environment one has to
identify possible sources,
judge the value of the source (in terms of different criteria; e.g., does it contain relevant data? What are the costs of employing this source? Is it reliable?), and
use value judgments to select the appropriate sources.
Many authors discuss Step 1 by pointing to a variety of available sources (cf Fuld, 1995; Kahaner, 1997; Sammon, 1986). Typical sources include the Internet, online databases, sales representatives, internal or external experts, CEOs, journals, tradeshows, conferences, embassies, and so forth.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Source: Something or someone containing data and from which the data can be retrieved. Many distinctions regarding sources are given in the competitive intelligence literature, for instance, open versus closed sources, primary versus secondary sources, internal versus external sources, and a distinction referring to the carrier of the data (human, electronic, or paper).
This work was previously published in Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology: edited by M. Khosrow-Pour, pp. 2690-2695, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global)
Source Identification: Identifying suitable sources (i.e., efficient and containing the relevant data) given a certain data need. See also “Source map.”
Competitive Intelligence: In the literature, two definitions are used: a product definition and a process definition. In the product definition, competitive intelligence is defined as information about the environment, relevant for strategic purposes. The process definition highlights producing and processing this environmental information. Process definitions often refer to the intelligence cycle.