Cure for Information Overload: Competitive Intelligence Quality (Not Quantity)

Conducting business would be unimaginable without access to the internet, particularly for news and critical information.

Remember the pain of researching a competitor’s latest products? Or waiting a week or more for a review in a flagship trade magazine?

Today, your favourite search engine delivers every catalogued article, review or social media posting in nanoseconds, rendering competitive intelligence and monitoring easier than ever before.

Which begs the question: 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 2,300 years. There’s even a reference in the Bible to the growing menace of the printed word.

In the digital era, research shows that information overload is bad for business — and for your employees. When unfiltered, business and competitive intelligence are at best ineffective, at worst harmful.

From sales data to media reports, the value of that information declines sharply when recipients aren’t guided to what matters most. Information overload – a.k.a “infobesity” and “infoxication” – quickly leads to infoxiety (information anxiety).

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

Too much information also inhibits our ability to digest and process information.

Gamechanger: Media monitoring

Even so, media and competitor monitoring can’t be overlooked as a crucial element in decision-making.

That information is a key component of any business and competitive intelligence and analytics architecture. A well-designed system will follow the latest news about your specific subjects, competitors, products, legal and regulatory developments.

Sounds like common sense. Yet designing an effective monitoring system is hard.

Even conducting your own internet search will quickly swamp you.

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 free and easy to create. Yet the results can prove frustrating: Complaints have been growing since 2013 that alerts are more about driving traffic to specific websites than about delivering relevant news.

Free filtering tools are fairly basic. For example, no matter how carefully you tailor them, alerts set 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 the ECB).

At best, Google Alerts is a back-up when all else fails.

Competitive Intelligence 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 everything. 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. Their filters often are founded on momentum and traffic volumes.

In entertainment, ‘clickbait’ articles create tremendous amounts of traffic (and advertising revenue), so popularity could be said to equal success of sorts.

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

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

The human touch

Fake news is no longer confined to politics.

It can strike businesses big and small, often with a real financial and reputational impact.

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

We’ve assembled 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 experience and knowledge of what’s important to your business — and 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.

We’re betting that will be the case for a long time to come.