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A middle aged man and a woman review a tablet screen. Measuring ROI of a competitive intelligence portal can be challenging.

Measuring ROI for an enterprise competitive intelligence portal is complicated

An oft-quoted business aphorism is “What gets measured gets managed.”  While generally true, this statement should be interpreted more as a caution than as revealed wisdom.  Why?  Because, as one writer put it, “not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that we can measure matters.”

Take decision-making, for example.  Decision-making arguably is the most fundamental, yet least measurable, process in any business.  Organizations measure the outcomes of decisions every day: to develop product A, and how it then fared in the market; to pursue a particular marketing strategy, and the qualified sales leads it yielded; to acquire company X, and the resulting impact on the organization’s top and bottom lines.  It is extremely difficult, however, to measure the value of inputs to a business decision, and the mechanisms by which those inputs are produced and delivered.

For instance, Northern Light and its enterprise clients would like to measure the return on investment (ROI) of our knowledge management systems for market intelligence and customer insights, which routinely provide input to myriad business decisions.  Unfortunately, we get driven into things we can measure as opposed to things we care about.  We can measure the number of users and user sessions, we can measure the number of documents downloaded, and that’s what we base our ROI methodology on.

A few years ago, Forrester produced a report based on an analysis of a major telecommunication company’s use of Northern Light’s platform, which concluded that each user session saved 1.5 hours of professional time, or $150, equating to tens of millions of dollars for the corporation annually.  But in the final analysis we don’t really care as much about that metric as we do about better business decisions, and we don’t know how to measure that definitively.

At a recent Northern Light webinar, Forrester senior analyst and featured guest speaker Cinny Little, an expert in market and competitive intelligence (M&CI), said determining M&CI ROI measures is specific to each situation, and the type or types of decisions being driven.  The objective is to figure out what did M&CI contribute that enabled somebody to make a decision, since CI is enabling decisions, not the results of those decisions per se.

That can be challenging.  One reason is M&CI team members often are removed from the decision-making process and the decision-makers, especially at organizations that have deployed a well-designed enterprise knowledge management system.  Such systems will enable “self-service” by end users, so an executive can easily find and review relevant documents in the portal to inform their decision-making without any direct involvement by the M&CI professionals who populate and manage the system.  As a result, competitive intelligence professionals may have little visibility into the role they, their content and systems played in the decision-making process, or how many decisions they impacted.

The solution is for a M&CI team to build strong, consultative relationships with senior leaders across the organization.  By influencing how work is conducted – specifically, expanding the use of market intelligence-driven insights in decision-making – and advocating for insights-driven decision-making, both the visibility and perceived value of M&CI will grow.  As that happens, the M&CI team will see and hear more about the fruits of their labors, and uncover new ways to assess and measure their impact.


View Northern Light’s recent webinar, “How to Maximize the Impact of a Competitive Intelligence Portal,” featuring Forrester analyst and guest speaker Cinny Little.


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