Putting Competitive Technology Intelligence to Work

By Norling, Parry M.; Herring, Jan P. et al. | Research-Technology Management, September/October 2000 | Go to article overview
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Putting Competitive Technology Intelligence to Work

Norling, Parry M., Herring, Jan P., Rosenkrans, Wayne A., Jr., Stellpflug, Marcia, Kaufman, Stephen B., Research-Technology Management

By making technology intelligence an integral part of their innovation process, these companies were able to identify opportunities rather than simply define threats.

OVERVIEW: Capturing technology intelligence can reveal significant opportunities for an enterprise, but the effort must be organized, must use sophisticated means to gather and analyze information, must convey the intelligence to individuals who can and will act upon it, and must employ individuals with experience, skills and the right temperament. The experiences of Motorola, SmithKline Beecham, Clorox, and Baxter Health Care provide important lessons for mounting such an effort.

Business leaders agree: Technology intelligence (TI) is important to support R&D, but most Industrial Research Institute member companies report their technology intelligence capabilities are lacking (1).

Technology intelligence is defined as business-sensitive information about external scientific or technological developments that can affect a company's competitive position. Capturing technology intelligence is more than informal technology scouting; rather, it involves a structured process that includes four important steps (Figure 1):

1. Planning, organizing and directing the competitive intelligence effort.

2. Collecting intelligence information.

3. Analyzing the data.

4. Disseminating the results of intelligence for action.

In 1998, an IRI workshop focused on the use of technology intelligence to define opportunities rather than its more prevalent use to define threats. Four case histories illustrated different aspects of the competitive intelligence operation and provided important lessons for R&D management.

Planning, Organizing, Providing Direction

Motorola Case Study, by Jan Herring

During the early definitional phase of Motorola's mobile satellite communications program, Iridium, the Corporate Intelligence Department was tasked to find out whether any of its competitors were considering a similar development. The resulting intelligence operations and findings provided the company's senior management with the insight and the motivation to act decisively and seize the technology-based opportunity before any of its competitors could.

Under the direction of CEO Robert Galvin, the Motorola Corporation became one of the first companies to set up a formal intelligence program. Galvin, who had served on the United States President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, believed that multinational companies operating in a global environment needed intelligence programs as much as governments did. The company hired me, a 20-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who had been in charge of a number of science and technology intelligence programs, to set up its effort. At the CIA, my work involved thousands of information collectors using satellites, undercover operations and other resources, along with hundreds of analysts. It was a challenge to devise a viable legal and ethical program for the private sector with the limited resources I would be given.

With my help, Motorola created a technology-oriented intelligence organization with about ten dedicated people at the corporate level and a $1 million budget. Early results had an impact upon the corporation's mergers, acquisitions, operations and new strategy development. One of the program's early successes yielded approximately $10 million a year in additional revenue, thus demonstrating that the intelligence function could pay its way, as Galvin had always assumed.

It was an excellent program from an operational standpoint. Intelligence professionals quickly developed a first-class library capability, taking advantage of the company's good information technology, and created a professional human-source intelligence collection operation that could tap the brains of 90,000 employees worldwide. A strong analytical group of five people included a financial analyst, a political scientist and a specialist in Japanese corporate management.

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