Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Competitive Intelligence: The Innovation X-Factor

By Celeste L. Corrado, MSIS, MBA
Strategy, Innovation and Information Systems Expert 

Over 90% of CEOs cite innovation as a top priority and driver of growth for their companies. With many organizations focused on innovation as a growth driver, there is an increasing emphasis on creating innovation systems or platforms that can systematically enable and deliver the next generation of products/technologies or venture opportunities. Many of the larger established organizations have developed innovation systems comprised of processes (e.g. stage and gate), tools, technologies and the expertise required to enable a continuous pipeline of ideas and growth opportunities (see figure 1). How and when Competitive Intelligence (CI) is leveraged and delivered within these innovation systems creates the basis for determining which opportunities to fund and develop further. The right CI artifacts delivered at the appropriate stage of the venture lifecycle is considered the “Innovation X-Factor” because it is a critical factor in determining venture success.

Figure 1: Corporate Innovation Systems

How CI Helps Companies Innovate 

Large organizations are inherently risk-averse yet the very nature of innovation is risky business. An agile and reliable CI program strategically embedded within an innovation system is of great value because it can significantly decrease uncertainty, offsetting the inherent risks of innovative initiatives. With the right CI artifacts, uncertainty and risk can be managed and mitigated. For this reason, many companies choose to incorporate a stage and gate process, where each gate has a set of criteria corresponding to the type of information required to make an informed investment decision, very similar to Key Intelligence Questions (KIQs).

In this process, after the idea is discovered, investment decisions are made at five points:
  • Stage 1 – Scoping and preliminary investigation
  • Stage 2 – Building the business case
  • Stage 3 – Developing the idea into a feasible plan 
  • Stage 4 – Testing and validating the new product
  • Stage 5 – Launching the product
As an opportunity or venture is evaluated and proceeds through a “gate” with a “go” decision, it is moved to the next stage. Each progressive stage and gate requires a significant increase in CI rigor and fidelity to drive down risk and uncertainty (see figure 2) and inform decision making. At the later stages of venture development, a company is investing significant resources, making it critical that key insights be built upon a CI fact base that is as accurate and relevant as possible. Strategically embedding CI capabilities tailored to an organization’s innovation platform and risk tolerance can significantly draw down the degree of uncertainty at each stage of venture development and facilitate informed investment decisions.

Figure 2: CI Rigor vs. Investment vs. Risk

8 Key Components

Innovation systems typically run lean and require a CI capability that supports agile, flexible, high precision, and affordable solutions. To be effective, CI diligence should be integrated throughout each stage and gate of the venture life cycle (Ideation to Commercialization). Below are some of the key components of a CI functionality embedded in an innovation system:
  • Success (Gate) Criteria: A clear set of progressively rigorous decision criteria or questions is developed for each gate of the venture development lifecycle. These are very similar to Key Intelligence Questions (KIQ). 
  • CI X-Factor Resources: Staffing this type of CI function is challenging because it requires access to entrepreneurial multi-functional talent and the ability to quickly identify the unique information requirements critical to a venture’s success. 
  • The CI Cycle: The CI cycle when embedded in innovation systems must be agile and efficient in order to meet time-to-market requirements.
  • Actionable Insights: The CI X-Factor team must be able to respond quickly in providing relevant, high quality and “actionable” CI artifacts that lead to “go” or “no-go” investment decisions at each gate.  
  • CI Tools & Data Sources: Acquiring fundamental tools and data sources to support the type of research and analysis required at each stage and gate is critical yet can be an on-going struggle given funding constraints.
  • Metrics: The closed nature of innovation systems provides an opportunity to measure the impact/effectiveness of the CI function and its outcomes. These metrics are important in demonstrating CI value and continuously improving the process.  
  • Searchable Repository: Since each stage and gate builds upon the next, it is critical that all CI artifacts, including key gate decisions, be captured and stored so they can easily be accessed and reused throughout the venture’s lifecycle.
  • Lessons learned: Incorporating a method for sharing lessons learned is important in continuously improving CI efforts.  
Monitor, Measure and Improve

Many innovation systems are designed to closely track a portfolio of ideas/innovations from inception to launch or divestiture. In other words, the entire lifecycle, including every stage of development, is captured in a searchable repository including CI artifacts and corresponding “gate” decision documentation and evaluations. These artifacts are easily accessed and can be leveraged, revised or augmented at each stage of development. This type of closed system is a unique opportunity to closely monitor, measure and improve the effectiveness and impact of the embedded CI program as it relates to venture outcomes.

What’s Next?    

In summary, a CI function embedded in an innovation system is instrumental in reducing uncertainty and driving venture success.  However, the CI function within these systems must be agile, low cost, lean and effective at delivering the right information at the appropriate stage of development. Of interest is the fact that innovation systems typically track and monitor the progress of the venture through the venture life cycle, creating an opportunity to measure CI efficacy (e.g. the quality of the decisions made at each gate, number of ventures launched, return on investment, CI cycle time).

As innovation systems continue to evolve, there will be an increasing demand to advance the CI capabilities and techniques embedded within these systems. They must be more agile, affordable, reliable and flexible than core CI programs. Could the evolution and proliferation of innovation systems drive the demand for newer more agile CI platforms, tool, and techniques? Could advances in information systems and technologies create lower cost/higher fidelity CI solutions? Could these solutions pave the way for the next generation of CI programs, expertise, techniques, and tools?

About the Author

Ms. Corrado is a competitive intelligence professional and an expert in strategy, advanced technology (R&D) development and corporate innovation systems. She offers a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities of incorporating competitive intelligence capabilities within innovation systems and platforms. In addition, she is the founder of Vizeon Solutions, providing results-driven innovation, competitive intelligence, technology, and business solutions to Fortune 500 clients. Prior to Vizeon Solutions, Ms. Corrado developed, launched and led the start-up commercial “innovation platform” for Lockheed Martin’s New Ventures organization. Through that effort, she is credited with developing a lean, agile competitive intelligence program tailored to the company’s innovation objectives and funding availability. For more information please contact the author at ccid8r@gmail.com.


  1. Hello,
    Product innovation is the creation and subsequent introduction of a good or service that is either new, or an improved version of previous goods or services. This is broader than the normally accepted definition of innovation that includes the invention of new products which, in this context, are still considered innovative.innovative product development

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