When I was at FreeMarkets, I oversaw the competitive intelligence / competitive strategy function -- usually myself and one other individual if I was lucky -- for much of my tenure. In the software and consulting worlds, CI is critical -- it enables you to position ahead of your competitors and to make the best use of your development dollars. And it goes without saying that it also helps in tactical hand to hand combat in the field. But in the physical supply chain world, competitive intelligence is equally as critical. Despite its importance, however, when was the last time you heard of a corporate development, procurement or operations organization devoting budget and resources to looking at their competitor's operations? Well, it's time that should change. And it so happens that this is the subject of a recent Supply Chain Management Review article on the subject.
What types of competitive intelligence are worth considering when it comes to procurement and operations? The article suggests considering the following types of question as examples: "Would the availability of metrics for your competitors' supply chains help improve your own supply chain? Would it be helpful to know if your competitors' supply chains were relatively better (cheaper, faster, more cost efficient, and so forth) than yours? If they are better, what actions should you take in response? Are your competitors automating parts of their supply chains to reduce costs and gain speed?" The article recommends evaluating such metrics as "speed, agility, cost, data transparency or visibility, strength of alliances with suppliers, and strength of alliance with logistics and distribution partners” from a competitive comparison perspective.
Interestingly, if any practitioners are thinking about tackling this type of analysis, we might be able to help, leveraging experience and data we already have. My advisory firm, Azul Partners, has done this on the marketing side from a targeting perspective for vendors, looking at the relative sophistication of their prospect's procurement, supply chain and IT operations. Some might ask, why? It's simple. We've done this from a strategic marketing and lead generation angle so that our clients can better prescibe and develop the right solutions based on their individual prospect's level of sophistication. It would be easy for us to turn this around on the CI side as well for practitioner organizations looking at their competitor's supply chain and IT sophistication.