Like New Year's resolutions, business intelligence strategies are based on some kind of self-appraisal, which leads to a personal promise to change for the better. As it goes with resolutions, many or most business intelligence commitments are never kept because of unrealistic expectations, or hurdles that might be technical or cultural. But, even where resolutions or BI initiatives do succeed, the result is self-improvement that may or may not be noticed outside our own world. We may have improved ourselves, but losing weight or quitting smoking doesn't bring the social benefits we hoped for.In business intelligence, there is a counterpart to the inward-focused self-help program, and it is called competitive intelligence, "CI" for short. Melanie Wing is an expert in competitive intelligence, having just left a seven-year stint at Chase Card Services to head up the financial services practice at consultancy Proactive Worldwide. (Melanie will share her CI expertise at the upcoming BI Forum 2006, June 4-6 in San Francisco.)

Companies do keep an eye on the competition of course, but systemic and focused CI is a maturing and mostly unfulfilled pursuit. "In financial services in particular, the message should be that CI has become imperative," says Wing. Credit card companies do the best job of this, as evidenced by the aligned efforts at Capital One and Chase, but many others are still looking for leaders to follow.

As Wing likes to say, you can't run your business without understanding what's happening in your marketplace. Other industries recognize this, particularly pharmaceuticals and technology. In pharma, which is probably the most ruthlessly competitive industry in the world, companies devote enormous resources tracking patent applications, parallel product development and testing results.

But there are ways a financial services business can track a competitor's product launch even without the long, disclosed development and testing cycle in the pharmaceutical industry. "At Chase, we anticipated several product launches by competitors," Wing says, and she employs several of those methods in her new consulting position. Strategies include leveraging bureau data, market research tools, or consumer panels where customers track their own behavior in diaries, which can be compared to risk profiles. "You can see how a high versus low-risk customer uses a particular account. You need use traditional tools and also take an external view outside the database world."

This is more than acknowledging customers that have multiple relationships with a company; it is about understanding what they are doing with those relationships. "In the credit card industry, let's say you have a Citi card, a Chase card and a Capital One card. If you're not getting your fair share of spending on that card and Citi is, what kind of places are they spending, how are they using the other card, what's the product value proposition that allows Citi to capture more market share? Are there merchant segments where they capture more spending?"

Credit card companies have an obvious advantage in that they track daily consumer behavior much more closely than does a retail bank, but the same thinking should apply. In diversified financial services, "entanglement" is the goal of building multiple relationships with the customer that present hurdles and reluctance to churn. In the B2B world, much of the high-value proposition comes from individual relationships as well as the products and services offered. In retail banking, value propositions are created with products such as online banking and free checking. In this area, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are considered best in class, says Wing. "They understand their customers in a way that allows them to cross-sell and create entanglement and raise the barrier to exit. But on the service end, Bank of America offers a 'relationship manager' so if you have six products with them and are delinquent on a credit card payment, instead of sending you into a collections queue, your relationship manager will call you and talk to you about what's going on." In the CI world, BI is as much about understanding competitive behavior as it is about innovation.

Generally, Wing focuses on how to use consumer-based information to get a better understanding of marketplace activity. The thrust of Wing's presentation at BI Forum 2006 will address BI capability that allows competitive as well as consumer understanding, how competitor customers are behaving, where business is losing market share, and how to use conventional BI tools to learn those things. "If you think about the dynamics that drive the industry, there are three things: the products and services that are offered; the way consumers respond to those products and services; and the end result for the company, whether it is getting the behavior they want to support the results they need." The challenge, she says, is to move from addressing this in ad hoc fashion to a systematic and integrated strategy for a decision-making timeline within a repeating cycle. "CI by itself is a high-value proposition. We have built roadmaps for this and that is some of what I will talk about."

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