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“Competitive Intelligence is a Mindset”

Student Shadow, Sarah Bratt, reflects on UNYSLA’s spring conference.

Janis Whritenor, Paychex, Inc.

At this year’s 2014 UNYSLA /SCIP conference, Janis Writenor proposed a fascinating paradigm shift in the way we think about the context of our business. There’s widespread agreement in the corporate world that the best approach to a business task requires a wealth of vetted information. However, this claim is belied by the recent rash of “Big Data” hype. So what now for librarians? What now for competitive intelligence professionals?

In the chiefly data-driven, highly networked landscape where the concept of data-driven-decision-making isn’t new, there’s still a persistent need to develop tools and techniques to grapple with emerging business intelligence and market research challenges.

With over 20 years of strategic market research experience, Whritenor’s talk provided valuable insight into “why CI is critical for business today.”  Her career began in printing and evolved once she completed her MBA. Whritenor then created her own position at Paychex, Inc. dealing chiefly in payroll and business support. Feet wet, her interest in competitive intelligence and business intelligence grew and she began managing teams to fulfill requirements for market research at Paychex. Her business savvy led to “transform[ing] data into insight.” But the nitty gritty of market research is a mystery without a concrete example of a success story at Paychex.  To answer “What makes for successful CI?” Whritenor spoke from her experience as a manager at Paychex, Inc. in the company’s move to open an office in an emerging market.

Paychex in Brazil: A Case Study

Whitenor focused on a case study she worked on at Paychex where she used a CI mindset in a project. Paychex was doing a global scan assessing new markets for expansion. Explosions of questions arose in the new venture: Which country do we choose? What’s the business climate like? Is the market large enough? Is the government pro-business? Anti-business? And once you’ve asked these questions, how in the world do you find out the answers? To narrow down the questions, Whritenor advised finding “the long pole in the tent.” Paychex’s decision to expand into a new country was ultimately dependent on the “long pole” of regulatory requirements and the burden these requirements placed on business.

In the end, Paychex weighed their options and ultimately decided to open a foreign operations office in Brazil. As one of the “BRIC” emerging markets (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), Brazil’s economic situation differed from Paychex’s previous endeavors. The move last fall 2013 proved successful owing in part to the background research performed by Whritenor and colleagues. Market research paints a predictive picture for a company looking out at a 5-10 year horizon. Whritenor also suggested concept-testing, asking other companies about their “pain points,” and hiring a local company to do what their business isn’t expert at (e.g. payroll). Whritenor argued that the success of the decision required CI continuity.  Generalizing her experience with Paychex’s changing priorities, she concluded the case study by asserting that CI must be seen as a lifecycle, which iterates as the dynamics of systems, economies, and priorities change.

CI as a Mindset

Data-driven decision making is not a new idea. But as a mindset, CI requires that you think bigger and that you think global. Every library, every small business, every mom-and pop road-side stand sits enmeshed in a global context. CI as a mindset means you and your business are nested in a network of linked entities that compete and collaborate. Total isolation from modern marketplaces is extremely rare (I’ll grant you the South Pole and deep space as economically out of reach places, as far as global economics goes). The norm for managers of a business or organization of any size, market, niche, or location is deeply embedded in markets.

The implications of Whritenor’s statement that “CI is a mindset” are impactful across organizations and industries. As the centers of information collection, organization, and access (and the details that come with information management), libraries are central to an organization’s competitive intelligence conception. Librarians conduct research not only by amassing credible sources, but also synthesize and analyze findings and build a foundation for managers to make decisions with the rich view of the SWOT landscape. Granted, libraries and corporate environments differ. For example, the lifecycle of CI is not as static. There’s a higher premium on currency of information in fast-paced, bottom-line driven business than you’ll usually find in traditional academic research in the social or natural sciences.

Libraries and CI

Where there’s a question of website authority, document authenticity, or information currency, so too are there librarians (or should be!). An information professional is well-poised to assist the research process no matter the library or community he serves.  Whritenor’s Paychex example underscored the central role of source evaluation in CI. Her experience was a case study in the importance of navigating vast collection of data to support solution-building, especially by understanding known and unknown sensitivities of the new business climate (e.g., a country’s time zone, policy-making process, and cultural norms). These sensitivities influenced the ultimate decision to open an office in Brazil.

In the end, we can agree with Whritenor: CI is best thought of as a mindset rather than a particular lineup of tools and strategies. And a public or academic library would do well to leverage this mindset. Traditional libraries are well-adapted for CI not to vie against competition, but in the context of goals different from corporate community engagement and information evaluation, and research needs but rather to take the temperature of the business and educational landscape.

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“Business Darwinism: CI an essential adaptation for survival”

Sarah Bratt recounts parts of UNYSLA’s spring conference: “Not the CIA: Competitive Intelligence and Analysis in the Real World.” Sarah attended the conference as a student shadow and has since graduated from Syracuse University with a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

“Business Darwinism: CI an essential adaptation for survival”
Tim Kindler, director of CI in the Americas Ernst & Young

When Tim Kindler left Kodak to work at E&Y, his co-workers sent him off with a secret decoder ring and dark glasses—competitive intelligence tools of the trade. Competitive intelligence often gets that rep, frequently thought of as an under-the radar method of conducting research. In reality, CI addresses the all-too-common situations when “at the point we need it the most we often know the least.” In his introductory presentation and joint talk with Janis Whritenor (Paychex, Inc.), Kindler introduced CI for beginners and detangled misguided ideas about the role of CI in organizations today. He argued that because CI is a function of innovation, understanding your competitor is central to business success, progress, and ultimately survival.

What is CI?

Kindler explained that the planning and execution of CI is a hierarchical relationship:

Strategic, Operational, Tactical


The key aim of CI is to reduce “F.U.D.” For those of us who don’t speak business mantras, F.U.D. stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Kindler argued that CI is the best way to approach a decision because it provides a landscape view of your business or organization (via customer profiles, community economics, etc.). The purpose of CI is eliminating degrees of uncertainty: “It is pardonable to be defeated, but never to be surprised,” Kindler contended. By mitigating risk through CI, teams can move forward. Assessments are not rear-view judgments but projecting possibilities through “decision-informing practice.” Reducing uncertainty helps a business evolve through adaptation.

Where businesses go to die

We can either confront uncertainty or ignore it. The classic example is Kodak’s reaction to disruptive technology in photography-namely the digital camera which Kodak itself created. Kodak perceived the emerging technology as a threat rather than embracing it. Eventually, the market for digital cameras outgrew and replaced film cameras and Kodak went bankrupt in 2012. Kindler said that without a strong mission and vision, Kodak recoiled from “putting the sacred cow on the BBQ.” Competitive Intelligence is absolutely necessary for the survival of a business. It is the adaptive feature in Business Darwinism that accounts for the success or failure of a business. Products and demand change over time. If practices stagnate, a company gets left behind like Kodak. If, like GE, you are nimble, adaptive, and unafraid of change, you are better suited for survival.

Business Darwinism

Darwin’s principle “Survival of the Fittest” applies to the business world–“Survival of the Fast-Failers.” The natural law that guides business success is the practice of iterating quickly through failure. In business today, CI is not a periphery function that augments day-to-day decisions. Rather, aim to cultivate vulnerability and a culture that accepts failure. Only then is a company open to emerging trends, technology, and markets.


Kindler recommended “identify[ing] the thing that keeps you up at night.” Leveraging the unknown variable in your organization is necessary to compete in a dynamic and changing environment. It’s also a source of untapped potential. GE reinvented itself and succeeded because it’s not what the company makes, but why. Alignment with the company’s values can herald a new start for a company, especially in the face of new market threats. What happens to Kodak in a world of iPhones and digital cameras? If Kodak is essentially about film, their core company identity is aligned with a transient product, a product that is quickly replaced by the next generation of image capture. A strong company has an enduring core of human resources, strategic mission, and durable values.

Libraries and Business Darwinism

Libraries are a business. Insofar as libraries concerned with core business functions like budgeting, marketing, publishing, resource circulation, and assessment, libraries are concerned with and subject to the laws of Business Darwinism. Let’s perform assessments without another survey. Many public librarians quickly become somber at the prospect of bookstores closing. But the library is more than a bookstore, and must be in order to survive. Kindler explained that E&Y sells brands and services: “Our products are people—which don’t come in a box.” In the same way, libraries are hubs are community connectivity. We are a service-based industry powered by information professional. That sounds like E&Y. Though Kindler argued: “The bigger the company, the more important the CI,” a non-corporate library’s community benefits from dedicated research.

Tim’s Recommended Reading

“The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen.


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UNYSLA Updates, Spring 2014

UNYSLA Updates, Spring 2014

Dear Upstate NY Chapter of SLA,

UNYSLA’s spring conference, held at the awe-inspiring Corning Museum of Glass, was a resounding success – good attendance, great speakers and plenty of networking opportunities.  This conference was a collaborative effort between SCIP, Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, and UNYSLA and was generously sponsored by S&P Capital IQ. The morning began with a brief introduction to competitive intelligence (CI) by Tim Kindler of Ernst and Young. Janis Whritenor of Paychex and Tim Kindlerthen described how competitive intelligence can be used to further one’s business and career.  We also learned what CI is not and how to be ethical and forthright as one gathers, synthesizes and presents information to stakeholders.  The morning session concluded with J.R. Yanchack of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP who presented information on CI in the legal profession – from the current state of CI in the legal industry to practical advice on developing a CI program.

After a delightful lunch with time to tour the museum, we heard from Scott Swigart of Cascade Insights whose presentation focused on “tuning into the voice of the competitor” and going beyond typical search techniques to find CI information.  Our last speaker was Alice Li of the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization who described university R&D and the techniques and challenges of commercializing research products.  The day ended with a lively panel discussion and many questions from interested participants.

A big thanks and kudos to Susan Kendrick, Janis Whritenor (of SCIP) and the rest of UNYLSA’s planning committee.  Our fall conference is in the formation stages now (tentatively scheduled for 10/17/14).  If you have ideas for the conference or would like to participate in planning, please contact me or any member of UNYSLA’s board. If you are not a member of SLA, we would encourage you to join our vibrant professional organization and become a member of the Upstate New York Chapter.  Hope to see you in Vancouver!

Linda Galloway
UNYSLA President, 2014


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Free Webinar: Billion-Dollar Surprises: How and Why Business War Games Pay Off

Thursday, April 3, 2014 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EDT

Register here:

Business war games sound cool. That’s because they are. Business war games are not about war; they’re about learning. They put your knowledge of your business to better use and they lead to much better strategy decisions. In this thought-provoking webinar you will encounter case studies from real-life companies that used business war games to make tough, important decisions. You will learn:

· What business war games do and why they work.

· Why humans like, and need, business war games.

· When to use business war games and what to expect from them.

Mark Chussil is the Founder and CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc., and a four-decade veteran in competitive strategy. A pioneer in business war-gaming, he’s helped Fortune 500 companies around the world to make or save billions of dollars. An expert in strategy simulation, he’s won a patent and another is pending. A highly rated speaker, he teaches workshops on strategic thinking in companies and at universities. He’s written three books, chapters for five others, and scores of articles.

Mark has applied war-gaming and strategy simulation in airlines, chemicals, computer chips, energy, health and beauty aids, large vehicles, medical devices, OTC drugs, paper, parasiticides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, vaccines, and more. Mark earned his MBA at Harvard and his BA at Yale.

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Buying and Selling Information: A Guide for Information Professionals and Salespeople to Build Mutual Success

Presented by: Mike Gruenberg

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EDT

Mike Gruenberg is the author of “Buying & Selling Information; A Guide for Information Professionals and Salespeople to Build Mutual Success” which is being published by Information Today and which will be available in March. The information contained in the book can dramatically change the way libraries buy information, negotiate more effectively with vendors and as a result save time and money for their organizations. The book deals with “real life” examples of how to work with library vendors and partners. For more information and to register click here:

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Take Two: SLA Competitive Intelligence Division also presents…

Thursday, February 27, 2014 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST
Speaker: Peter Ozolin
The amount of data in our world has been exploding, and analyzing large data sets—so-called “Big Data”—has become a key basis of competition. Professionals in all sectors have to grapple with the implications of big data. The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the expansive Internet will continue to fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.
Join us  for an informative webinar regarding the use of big data, and how you can manage and leverage it to create a knowledge advantage now and in the future. Peter Ozolin, Founder and CEO of the legal industry’s leading listening platform, Manzama Inc., will be leading the discussion.
To find out more and register, click here:


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Registration Now Open For …

Registration Now Open For …

Not the CIA: Competitive Intelligence and Analysis in the Real World

Join us March 28, 2014, at the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY, for a full day of presentations on competitive intelligence (CI) as it relates to businesses, law firms, and academia.

Visit our Events page for all the details and to register for this exciting event!


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SLA Competitive Intelligence Division presents…


Thursday, February 20, 2014 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST

Speaker: Bruce Rosenstein

Bruce Rosenstein will demonstrate how to apply the forward-focused principles of Peter Drucker, “the father of modern management,” to the success of your organization, now and in the future. Learn how to determine “the future that has already happened,” the disruptive trends and events that may have a major impact on your organization in the future.


Bruce Rosenstein is the Managing Editor of Leader to Leader, as well as a Lecturer at Catholic University of America School of Library and Information Science. He is also the author of “Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way” and “Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire & Transform Your Life.”


To find out more and register for this free webinar, click here:

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