Organization charts for competitive intelligence

Organization charts are a recurring theme in competitive intelligence. Most competitive intelligence teams would like to have them: in part for their usefulness and in part because that level of information appeals to the natural instincts of an analyst. However, full organization charts are expensive to produce and, what is probably more of a barrier, require a long term commitment as they are best built iteratively over time. Most of the organization charts we have delivered have been broad overviews: major structural divisions, headcount, key executives. Only every few years do we get asked to produce the kind of organization chart where thousands of employees are listed with their names, job titles, salary brackets, responsibilities and so on.

It can be appealing to wish for an online, collaborative tool where org charts could be built. In practice, there would be a couple of disadvantages to having such a tool. One disadvantage is that if a competitor's organization chart was publicly available, it would lose some of its strength as a competitive tool; and if the competitor's information was being publicly shared, it may be that yours is also being shared, which somewhat negates the benefits of competitive intelligence. A second disadvantage is that the data may not be trustable. It might be intentionally polluted by competitors unhappy at seeing their organization chart in public; or it may simply be lower quality data than you find acceptable because it is partly based on rumours and comes from sources which you cannot vet.

There are a couple of online tools for creating organization charts collaboratively: Cogmap and The Official Board. Cogmap has the nicer visual interface; The Official Board seems to have more employees listed. In both cases, the number of executives is low. For example, for Shell Cogmap lists 67 executives and The Official Board lists 24 employees. "Popular" companies might have 200 employees listed. Those numbers are rounding errors compared to the size of the companies, and even more so since some of those employees are the CxO types that are listed on their websites. Both also contain a significant number of errors. They are useful because any source of information has some use, especially as part of a triangulation process, but it would be impossible to rely on them in any serious way.

Below are two example org charts, first from Cogmap and secondly from The Official Board:


While the graphical aspects of these tools, particularly Cogmap, are appealing, there is better intelligence in websites that list employees more generally, such as LinkedIn and Jigsaw. LinkedIn lists 102,000 employees for Shell, and Jigsaw lists 5,000. Each has its limitations, and they do little to show the relationships between employees, but a good competitive intelligence analyst will be able to get off to a good start with so many names, job titles, job descriptions and so on.