Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

“There are no secrets, only information you don’t yet have.” blog

Sometimes random thoughts on the internet can stimulate us in most unexpected ways, as this quote did with me today.  In many ways, the statement is very true, at least as far as pharma competitive intelligence (CI) is concerned.  Much of the information about products and companies is already out there, hidden in the huge mass that is the world wide web.  Often, it is just a matter of superior search skills to ferret out crucial information or key people who may have access to the data you need.

Four things then become critical:

1.  An in depth knowledge of the subject area in order to process what is important and what is not.
2.  A logical and creative mind to find the information in the first place.
3.  A relevant and useful network of contacts.
4.  An ability to process both linear and non-linear data into valid patterns and trends as a commentary.

Is it an art or a science?

In the final analysis, like marketing, CI is a bit of both and one should never misunderestimate the power of intuition and gut feel.  They sometimes make more sense than logic.

To me, it doesn’t matter if you use cool modern web tools or traditional methods as long as the data gathered is relevant and appropriate.  Sometimes a mix of the two works well in tandem, sometimes one or the other is more useful.

However, there is nothing worse than getting a huge ‘book’ or summary sheets of data upon data and no analysis or interpretation.  That’s NOT what CI is or should be, it’s undisciplined and inexperienced data gathering, much like imitation and processed cheese is very different from a crafted artisanal cheese.  The old chestnut of quality over quantity still applies to CI to this day.

What does competitive intelligence mean to you?

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9 Responses to “What is competitive intelligence?”

  1. gregorylent

    ego, actually, and hubris, and over-addiction to intellect, but i realize this is not the place to say such things, because your motives are pure ….
    but that is what the phrase “competitive intelligence” brings up for me ..
    all based on fear, resistance to cooperation, and ignorance of the way nature works best, which is as in infinite cooperation mechanism, from the whole-system view .. which is the one we need now, in this world ..
    feel free to delete my comment, that is what michael nielsen would do .. non-professional generalists are abhored by the protectors of the canon 🙂
    enjoy, gregory

  2. Sally Church

    Well that is an interesting perspective Gregory, although to be fair not all scientists or academics are elitist and closed.
    Intelligence here is meant to signify information, and the flow of information, as opposed to denoting IQ intelligence or any form of supposed superiority.
    In business, as in life, many people are naturally competitive, but not necessarily in the infectious greed way of Wall Street. Sometimes there is more to be gained from cooperation and understanding of different perspectives (whether science, art, medicine or whatever) than taking a diametrically opposing view in a contentious way.
    Ultimately, we all have the capacity to listen, evolve, adapt and learn from each other no matter what discipline or beliefs we have. Personally, I would rather here different points of view and develop a better understanding of things than close my mind to other ideas.

  3. Competitive Intelligence Tools

    Interesting post.
    I particularly noted your comment “…Much of the information about products and companies is already out there, hidden in the huge mass that is the world wide web….” How true, and the amount of available intelligence on the web grows every day!
    While manual analysis can uncover some of this, to really keep up with (and gain competitive advantage from) all of this information on a day-to-day basis can be an expensive and time consuming effort. One suggestion might be to make use of some of the readily available tools designed to assist in discovering, organizing and analyzing this kind of intelligence on an on-going basis.
    For example, my firm offers an inexpensive web-based service called AttaainCI that continually scans a vast range of web sources for the latest developments about any/all companies, people or markets of interest and provides summaries via dashboards and custom e-mail intelligence alerts. It also provides a variety of analysis tools for more detailed comparisons, etc. You can see details (including demo videos and even a 7-day free trial report) at
    While software can’t determine competitive strategy and tactics for you, it can certainly be leveraged to help efficiently uncover some of the key competitive intelligence factors upon which to base such decisions.
    Thanks again for an interesting post.
    Best Regards,
    Daryl Scott
    Attaain, Inc.

  4. Arik Johnson

    Hi Sally,
    I think Gregory reflects a very deeply held belief that CI as nomenclature and the idea those words convey upon first hearing sounds far too defensive an apparatus. As such, in defending the status quo, CI misses out on opportunities to create new value for a firm’s customers.
    Indeed, I completely agree.
    As usual, when the intellect fails us (as it surely has in recent months, the financial apocalypse notwithstanding, but at any time of great societal strife) we tend to turn spiritual in an attempt to make order out of the chaos that surrounds us. This tendency is not wrong-headed; however, it is an overreaction.
    In nature, as in business, it is not strongest who survives, nor the most intelligent but the one that is the most adaptable to change (to paraphrase Darwin).
    Natural selection of competitive characteristics among firms and the products of their industry is a societal law that has led to the great leaps forward of the past several thousand years. Societal evolution is no different from biological evolution in this way. As you said, Sally: competitiveness is entirely natural.
    All the best,
    – Arik

  5. Sally Church

    Ah a pitch! I confess to rarely publishing these but since yours is relevant, it seemed a good idea to share it and see what others think.
    How does your software compare with RSS feed aggregators? Would you have to create a database from scratch with it or do you have data already incorporated in given areas?
    Like many CI people, I use a mix of web tools to aggregate and collate information efficiently and effectively. However, the real skill is not in data collection per se but in a deep understanding of the area and the ability to make sense of patterns while also being able to explain them simply to others.

  6. Competitive Intelligence Tools

    Hi Sally:
    Yes, unabashedly so!
    You are absolutely correct that the skill is in the interpretation and application of the information collected. Unfortunately, given the limited number of hours available per day, time spent collecting can often detract from time spent interpreting/applying. So, taking advantage of all tools at your disposal to collect data efficiently is a good way to be able to focus more resources on applying intelligence to refine strategy.
    I believe that you should make use of any/all tools that compliment your process and improve the ultimate result. You mentioned RSS feed aggregators, which are certainly one readily available means of monitoring some types of info. There are many other individual tools available to get a glimpse of other CI aspects as well. To use all of them on a regular basis, however, can sometimes be a time consuming task in itself!
    [pitch alert…] So our software/service was designed to help address this… We not only track things you might expect such as news, search, blog mentions, etc., but also provide company profiles, track twitter mentions, hiring activities, patents, videos, Wikipedia articles, documents and much more. In addition, we provide a wealth of web metrics (a sometimes overlooked goldmine of competitive intelligence) including website traffic, search rankings by keyword, meta tag details, website collateral, link analysis, on-line pay-per-click spending & keywords, search rankings, and much more. And finally, we provide a framework for organizing all this info by Class and Line of Business, and for collaboration among the team using the system. As for your question regarding how to get the items into the system, we enable you to research any company, person or market of interest, and then simply hit a button to add the item to your “tracked” sets of items for dashboard summaries, analyses and e-mail alerts. […end pitch alert!]
    So, back to your original question: Is it an art or a science? I’d say “yes” – leverage the science of available tools to enable the art of interpretation and application!
    Thanks again,

  7. Sally Church

    Hi Daryl,
    Well, I confess I’m curious, mainly because I focus on a niche within a niche so to speak.
    Let’s say I was interested in healthcare, specifically oncology… how granular would the information be on different tumours or carcinomas? Could it differentiate squamous from non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer, for example. What sort of clinical data would your system be able to collate?
    The reason I ask is because of a slight scepticism perhaps from seeing various big CI companies claim to clients they understand pharma and have systems for racking this and that, but in reality they just charged a lot of money and knew diddly really. I get to mop up the pieces and provide more detailed and relevant information under tough time pressures because they already wasted a lot of time.
    I can, however, see the value in broader industries with more general trends such as autos, airlines, telecomms and such. Then you really could probably save a lot of time.

  8. Dan abshear

    I believe pharmaceutical competitive intelligence is a significant variable to develop impactful business tactics.
    One must acquire relevant information about the competition of an organization, and know where to seek to find such information.
    Also, one must assess and review this information in preparation for delivery to those within their own organiation who develop necessary business tactics to impliment to achieve maximum growth for the organization.
    For example, if one desires to know what competition may surface in the near future, they would seek those sources that provide data about priority reviews, or new drug applications. is an easy site to access for this information
    If one wants to find out if their competition is promoting such products inappropriately, they would seek sources, such as FDA’s DDMAC, to discover warning letters to the competitor company. the fda website has this information that can be easily obtained.
    If one wants to know if their competition is seeking additional indications for this competing drug, they would seek sources that provide supplemental new drug applications.
    Conventions also provide the direction the competiton is going, and what competition may arise as well.
    One who is responsible for providing competetive intelligence for their organization must have superior knowledge of the treatment options of a particular disease state that this organization’s product is utilized in treatment regimens. This person must have knowledge of the marketing enviornment, as well as the disease state to be impactful.
    Also, knowledge of the various classes of drugs that are considered for these treatment options as well.
    In addition, this person must know how and where to locate information on their competitor. There are several resources regarding this topic.
    A good contact network of those who provide such information is an important aspect of their vocation as well.
    Competitive Intelligence is a very time-consuming task often. Also, one who seeks such information must be focused and strategic in nature,
    Dan Abshear

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