Feature: Competitive (Technical) Intelligence: An Agent for Modern Development

By Prof Dr Henri Dou (douhenri@yahoo.fr)

Globalisation has brought together more than 200 countries that can simultaneously partake in and benefit from international exchange and open competition. This new scenario is a rupture from the past, because for more than a century only a group of 20 developed countries grounded their development on the exploitation of natural resources from other countries. Today the situation is dramatically different, calling for the development of a new discipline that can help countries, companies and institutions to increase their competitiveness and build competitive advantage.

This new discipline is known as Competitive Intelligence (CI) or Competitive Technical Intelligence (CTI). CI is designed to provide key decision-makers with valuable insights, recommendations or alert indices by careful retrieval, management, analysis and understanding of strategic information and its impact upon institutional objectives and visions.

CI concepts, methods and tools are now used by many countries, institutions and companies all over the world, e.g. the American Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, France's national programme for CI, as well as South Korea and Thailand that have aggressive policies for clusters development. For any country, building CI can be difficult. While governments invariably provide funds to create competences and knowledge, this is only the first step. The second step is to actually transform these competences and knowledge into money. This can be achieved through public and private partnerships (PPP or Triple Helix) that involve governmental institutions, research laboratories and universities, as well as industries. The intersection of these three entities provides the best condition to cultivate innovation; a measure that calls for the development of specific clusters.

Using CI to kick-start development

Universities that offer academic programmes in CI provide students with the knowledge to develop or integrate themselves in a CI team or within CI units in companies or institutions, some even at the regional level.

CI has a big role to play in regional development. Regional clusters take part in a CI cycle that is, in fact, involved in the retrieval of elaborate information and its analysis by experts. This will, in turn, provide recommendations and alert indices to key decision-makers in the region.

There are various examples where CI has been applied. At the international level, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has developed a programme to increase innovation in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of developing countries. This programme uses intellectual property information combined with the methods and tools of CI, to aid regional development, including in pre-clusterisation and improve existing processes as well.

At the national level, the French National Competitive Intelligence programme is one example that involves both large and small companies, e.g. EADS (airplanes), AREVA (nuclear energy), SEB (household appliances) and et cetera. In this programme, basic and expert CI techniques and methods are provided, e.g. information analysis, patents, information security, influence and et cetera to help these companies develop and innovate.

Some of the outcomes from this programme include the establishment of an SEB branch in China via a joint venture between SEB and SUKO, a similar outfit in China and the procurement of 180 Airbus A320 aircrafts by the IndiGo, a private domestic low-cost airline in India. The latter has been the largest jet order in aviation history.

In South Korea, strategic technologies were developed via the consultation of several thousand experts using CI concepts and methods to determine the future direction of technologies in the country. In this project, South Korea resorted to the DELPHI method as a means to organise and make sense of all the information and analyses.

At the regional level, Thailand has produced some particularly interesting results. Using Michael Porter's cluster concept (a famous business concept for economic development) and the APA Automatic Patent Analysis, different clusters involving various areas, e.g. tourism in Phuket, nanotechnologies, coconut products and et cetera, created a patent map of all the technologies and applications available in each field, to help experts form competitive ideas to the Governing Board of the clusters. This is a simple way of applying CI concepts and methods to cluster development and to establishing private and public partnerships.

Morocco presents an interesting local example, whereby CI methodology (including patent analysis, international contact with experts and development of proper governance) was used to pre-clusterise domains for cacti commerce. This resulted in the establishment of "cactopoles", which are industrial quarters that involve various areas of the Moroccan cacti industry, e.g. nutrition, pharmaceuticals, fruit processing, animal feed production and et cetera.

In laboratories or universities, it is now also commonplace to have a CI team whose objectives are valorisation (i.e. increasing value of capital assets) as well as betterment of the whole institution by providing researchers with some insights to develop industry links, institutional partnerships, thus helping these researches to use their competences and knowledge to innovate through the development of new products.

The University of Aix Marseille (France), the University of Coventry (United Kingdom) and the University of Stanford (the United States of America) make for some interesting examples.

Conclusion

CI and CTI are two rapidly developing fields and are a must for many countries, companies and institutions. Many advanced countries have adopted a national programme for CI as a means to drive innovation and create new incentives for regional development.

At the moment, CI is still a new phenomenon and many people speak about it without knowing the fine points of this discipline. This is the reason why short and specialised CI courses have been developed, and there is still plenty of room for universities to take up CI as a field of study. Today, increasing competitiveness is an inevitable process, and CI is one of the best methods for any party to fulfil this objective. Your company or institution must bear in mind that even if you do not practise CI, your competitors probably do; making the gap between your company with the "best in class" dramatically wider.

The use of CI is now so extensive that various areas are directly concerned, e.g. regional development, sports, law, tourism, social cohesion and et cetera. Many international institutions, such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (ONUDI) and WIPO have also set up different programmes in this area.

Even if the number of people involved in CI is not necessarily large (this calls for a selected number of institutions teaching this discipline), it is very important that they are well-educated in this area, and are equipped with the most current methods and tools, as this is a discipline that moves rapidly and concurrent with the progress in information and communication technology.

The examples in this article have provided some real world results, encompassing many things from new joint ventures to the consolidation of different industries. What is evident from each of these instances is that CI has proven to indeed be a useful agent to encourage innovation in modern development.

* Prof Dr Henri Dou is Director of Atelis (ESCEM), Research Professor (Beijing University), and Professor Emeritus (University Aix-Marseille). A WIPO Expert, Prof Dou is also a facilitator at the Centre for Graduate Studies, OUM.

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