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Portrait of a confident young businessman standing with his arms crossed in an office. Content curation.

Content curation is the foundation for effective competitive intelligence research and analysis

Competitive intelligence (CI) – the business discipline of gathering, analyzing, and using information collected on competitors, customers, and other market factors that contribute to a business’s competitive advantage – is practiced by organizations in every industry.  Competitive intelligence informs corporate strategy, acquisitions and partnerships, product development, marketing, sales and more.

While the sophistication of CI operations may vary widely from company to company, making wise business decisions invariably depends in part on knowing what’s happening in one’s marketplace.  And, as in every business discipline in the 21st century, computer systems can help.  In the case of competitive intelligence, the primary value of automation is to streamline and accelerate the process of collecting and finding the right information, leaving professionals more time to do what humans do best: analyze the information and then apply it to making business decisions.  That necessitates creating a competitive intelligence research platform – a system that stores and catalogues all CI-related content and makes it readily accessible to professionals across the enterprise who may need it for their particular business purposes.

CI is about “the outside world”

The first step in creating a useful competitive intelligence research platform is curating the content to be mined for insights.  Since CI is mostly about the outside world (beyond the “four walls” of the company), it’s vital that external information sources be included in any competitive intelligence content collection.

That starts with reliable industry news – publications (online and/or print) that do original reporting about a company’s business environment and target market(s).  (Before the internet, we called such periodicals “trade journals”; now they live primarily online.)  Northern Light has a saying, “CI happens first in the news,” because companies are required by law to publicly announce material events like acquisitions.  In addition, companies use news announcements as an important marketing communication vehicle for things like new products, new brand loyalty programs, new partnerships, and more.

News media aren’t the only external information source for CI; there are market intelligence reports published by third-party research services to which companies may subscribe.  These vary by industry – in information technology, the big names are Forrester and IDC; in pharma, they are Citeline, Clarivate, and Cortellis; in financial services, they are Mintel and Celent.

Another valuable source of competitive intelligence are competitors’ financial reports – not just their legally mandated SEC filings, but also their quarterly earnings conference calls with investors, earnings call transcripts, R&D Day and ESG reports.  These can provide a wealth of information about a company’s product strategies, growth plans, new market initiatives, and more.

Curation complexities for external content

Aggregating external business and technology research and integrating it into an enterprise CI platform is not just an IT project; it requires a varied set of skills and activities to address many complexities.

For starters, the process requires content industry awareness and contacts – an organization must know the most authoritative sources of information it needs and who to communicate with to arrange to receive it; content access agreements must be struck.  Technical flexibility is required to accommodate aggregation from many sources, as each publisher has their own preferred way of doing things; the user organization must accommodate the publisher.  Once ingested, the competitive intelligence platform must be able to normalize disparate data formats and metadata to create a single, integrated CI content repository, to which tags and taxonomies can be applied consistently and uniformly.

Curating internal documents for CI

Of course, not every document about the outside world originates in the outside world.  Market analysis reports generated internally by a company’s employees and contractors can also be valuable sources of competitive intelligence, so those documents must be curated and catalogued in an enterprise CI platform.

This necessitates the ability to upload existing internal documents in virtually any popular file format (e.g., DOC, XLS, PPT, PDF), images, and videos (e.g., PNG, JPG, MP3, MP4); and the ability to integrate data from any internal enterprise application that has a published API, such as SAP or Salesforce (XML, JSON, HTML).

Searching such internal content includes being able to transcribe video and audio content, with timestamps of the indexed words, and then index the transcription and navigate using the timestamps.   The text in graphs and charts should also be indexed for search.  The most relevant content might be in a graph and the title of the graph might be the best hit for the user’s research interest.

Also, internal CI documents can really benefit from “page view search results.”  Imagine a 100-page PowerPoint slide deck presenting analyses of many competitors.  Further, imagine that your search terms are found on pages 26, 30, and 89.   With page view, the search result identifies the specific pages the search terms are found on and shows you an image of those pages so you can decide if you really want to download the presentation.  This is much better than downloading it first and then flipping through the document to see where the references are to one’s search terms.

In addition, most large organizations have vast quantities of documents in Microsoft SharePoint sites, which are notoriously difficult to track and search, making those documents effectively lost.  Therefore, an enterprise CI platform must be able to import content from Microsoft SharePoint; using Microsoft Power Automate is an effective way to accomplish this.

Bring us your toughest content curation challenges

Northern Light has unparalleled content curation experience and skills, which is why we eagerly invite large companies to bring us your most difficult content aggregation problems and let us devise a solution.  Examples of content aggregation projects we have undertaken for clients include:

  • Aggregate industry conference presentations from hundreds of conferences
  • Aggregate Twitter content on diseases for patient journey analysis while deleting references to the client’s products (to avoid adverse event reporting problems)
  • Research Twitter handles of 6,000 life sciences researchers and harvest their tweets for a pharmaceutical client
  • Aggregate and search 1,000-page long mining investment documents from the Toronto Stock Exchange
  • Break books into chapters and index each chapter separately with hierarchical relationship to the book maintained
  • Aggregate a catalog of industry electronic parts
  • Aggregate a market intelligence source that consists only of interactive displays on the vendor website

In summary, Northern Light loves hard problems and if it can be done, we can do it – as we have numerous times over the years for dozens of the world’s largest, research-driven enterprises.

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