Competitive Intelligence Quality, Not Quantity, Can Cure Information Overload

Conducting business would be unimaginable without access to the internet, particularly for the news and critical information it delivers. Remember how painful it once was to research a competitor’s latest products, or to wait a week or longer for a review in your industry’s flagship trade magazine? Today your favourite search engine will deliver every catalogued article, review or social media posting in nanoseconds, making competitive intelligence and monitoring easier than ever before.

Now the question is: Which links should you trust?

Not new, just bigger

Information overload is not a new concept. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s been an issue for at least the last 2,300 years. In fact, there’s even a biblical reference to the growing menace of the printed word.

‘There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body’ – Ecclesiastes 12:12

In the digital era, there’s a growing body of research that information overload is bad for business — and for your employees. When unfiltered, business intelligence is ineffective and even harmful. Whether sales data or media reports, the value of data declines sharply for recipients when they’re not guided to what matters most. Information overload – also known as colloquially as infobesity and infoxication – quickly leads to infoxiety (information anxiety).

As business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of University College London and Columbia University argues, information and news filters may simply confirm our own information biases based on what Big Tech knows about us already.

Too much information may also inhibit our ability to digest and process information, too.

Gamechanger: Media monitoring

Even so, media and competitor monitoring cannot be overlooked as a crucial element in the decision-making process. It’s a key component of any business and competitive intelligence and analytics architecture. A well-designed system will follow the latest news about your chosen subjects, competitors, products, legal and regulatory developments.

That sounds like common sense. Yet designing a monitoring system is harder than you think.

Even conducting your own internet search will quickly leave you swamped and gasping for (information) air. VitalBriefing is hardly the world’s largest multinational (for the moment), but a quick Google search for us tosses out 5,370 results.

Try a bigger media outfit, like the BBC or New York Times, and the results run into the billions.

Online notification services such as Google Alerts are easy to create and free. Yet the results can prove frustrating: Complaints have been growing since 2013 that the alerts are more about driving traffic to certain websites than about delivering relevant news to its users.

Free filtering tools are fairly basic: alerts for the ECB — European Central Bank — are just as likely to deliver match results and player news from the England and Wales Cricket Board (also, confusingly, the ECB), no matter how carefully you tailor them. At best, Google Alerts is a back-up when everything else fails.

Quality matters

Bain & Company’s consultants call infobesity the enemy of good decisions. They suggest taking a step back, reviewing exactly what you need from your data, focusing on the important elements and standardising the output – in an internal email, on an intranet or in a corporate knowledge management system, for example — making it easier to digest. They also suggest that timing is an issue. With big data ever more accessible, the tendency may be to deliver too much information too often.

But perhaps the most significant insight from Bain & Company is on ‘quantity’ and ‘source’. Not every executive decision needs every single news article on a successful product launch or the impact of a new regulation. If the views are fairly uniform, then one or at most two will do, especially if the second adds new information.

For ‘source’, read quality. Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence aren’t always best at discerning quality media as their filters often are founded on momentum and traffic volumes. In the entertainment world, ‘clickbait’ articles create tremendous amounts of traffic (and advertising revenue for their hosts), so popularity could be said to equal success, of sorts.

But in the business, legal and financial worlds, the most insightful articles may be hosted on trade-news websites, government or agency sites or hidden behind subscription paywalls.

Then there’s the issue of fake news, particularly regarding politics and current affairs. In the US election of 2016 and the UK’s Brexit referendum the same year, fake news often was published on new and virtually unknown websites, and their reach amplified by retweets and “likes” on social media.

The human touch

Fake news is no longer confined to politics. There’s growing evidence that it can hit businesses, big and small, often with a real financial and reputational impact.

That’s why media and competitor monitoring, news curation, competitive intelligence, and worthwhile business intelligence continues to require a human element – and why at VitalBriefing we’ve recently updated our tagline to read “content you can trust.”.

We have a growing team of journalists around the world with expertise in their chosen fields, from financial services to logistics to sustainable development to the space industry and beyond. Their intuition on what’s important to your business and, more pertinently, what’s credible is an invaluable resource.

Software and automation just can’t substitute for the human expertise and insight into what you specifically need to know to protect – and grow – your business turf. We’re betting that will be the case for a long time to come.