Competitive Intelligence in Higher Education: Opportunities and Threats

Article excerpt


Despite widespread use of strategic planning processes in universities, few leaders in higher education have taken advantage of competitive intelligence techniques. This paper highlights operational threats faced by today's higher education leaders and illustrates how competitive intelligence can help mitigate threats in a university environment. A useful framework for identifying appropriate competitive intelligence analytical techniques that may be utilized to minimize the overall impact of each threat is provided.


Competitive intelligence (CI) techniques systematically and ethically gather, analyze and disseminate external information that can assist with organizational decision-making and the design of strategic and operational plans. (SCIP, 2004). Examples of CI include benchmarking, background checks, competitor assessments, network analysis, war gaming and won-loss analysis.

Use of competitive intelligence practices continues to grow at a substantial pace among US corporations with spending for CI estimated in excess of $2billion annually in 2001 (SCIP, 2001). A 2004 survey revealed that 15.3% of companies reported expenditures of over $500,000 and another 11% reported spending more than $1 million that year on CI (SCIP 2004) . Yet interest in CI in higher education has remained primarily focused on the development of educational programs and curricula to prepare accredited competitive intelligence professionals (Blenkhorn & Fleisher, 2003; Miller, 2003, Gubeno et, al, 2003; Shelfer, 2003; Gilad, 2003).

However, universities face a category of emerging threats including shrinking enrollment, rising costs, demographic changes, online competition, increasingly competitive fund-raising environments, accreditation pressures, recruiting needs, onerous regulatory requirements and shrinking state and federal funding opportunities. Indeed, the uncertainty emerging from these threats necessitates that universities place a strong emphasis on improving efficiency and effectiveness in how they structure, manage and deliver these services to its constituents. Competitive intelligence activities, as part of a broader strategic planning process, can assist a university with improving oversight of the environments by implementing competitive assessment techniques across university departments.


Strategic planning has been a relatively recent phenomenon in higher education as changing environments have forced universities to reinvent themselves to survive (Hughes and White, 2005). It has been argued that universities have been slow to adopt these techniques because of the lack of consensus in the utility of these practices for this environment (Rowley et al., 1997).

Lerner (1999) suggested that universities have had limited success in applying traditional strategic planning models because of differences in the orientation of those implementing such models. For example, traditional strategic planning variables such as customer segment, market segment, competitive rivalry and motivation, reward systems and market-based outcomes do not align well with non-profit environments (Lerner, 1999; Wagner, 2003). Individuals who lack a traditional for-profit orientation may not understand or feel comfortable adapting some of these variables and processes for their non-profit environments. Finally, from an historical perspective, it appears that most university strategic planning efforts have not reached their potential either due to a lack of institutional support, appropriate planning coordination or institutional fortitude (Rowley, et al., 1997).

Only a few studies have looked at the impact of university-wide strategic planning. For example, Rindfleish (2003) found that strategic planning in Australian universities was enhanced by the implementation of segment profiling which increased the identification of attractive market segments for universities to explore for further development. …


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