An eBay for competitive intelligence

Some of our earlier posts about InfoArmy got us thinking about disruption in the competitive intelligence industry. InfoArmy may not be disruptive (many of the reactions to those blog posts suggested they were not considered serious challengers). But the broader point about disruption remains, particularly given the current vogue to tell clients that they must self-disrupt or die. 

Back in the sixteenth century, we wrote about useless competitive intelligence. An eagle-eyed analyst sees competitive intelligence almost everywhere he looks. Unfortunately, most of it is of little commercial value: the company that might want that information is not a client, or the information is irrelevant in some other way.

But what if there was a vast online marketplace for competitive intelligence fragments: an eBay, to make the unimaginative comparison. Marketplaces have disrupted the online advertising industry, for example. With a competitive intelligence eBay, any time someone found a piece of information related to a company's competitor, they could post it on there. They would tag it with company names, category and the like. And price it, say $10, or $100. Or perhaps using an auction format.

Some instances of where such information might come from:

  • An analyst is doing some online research about Oracle's distribution network, and finds out tangentially who handles IBM's logistics. This is of no relevance to the client or the project, so they post it on this marketplace for $20.
  • A student goes to interview at Twitter's offices, and sees Microsoft's M&A team walking out. He sells this information on the marketplace for $50.
  • My mother lives opposite the Boeing factory, and notices that this week they have had a lot more deliveries than usual. She lists this for sale, for $10.
  • Someone sitting at Pret-A-Manger deduces their quarterly sales from the success of their Christmas Appeal. Stick that on the marketplace for $30.

The details would have to be thought out (as usual). For example, listings would have to hint at the information - you couldn't give it all away right there in the listing. Feedback ratings would temper the temptation to oversell the value of information, but actually information could be difficult to price: how do you determine a price that attracts the seller and satisfies the buyer, especially if you don't know who will buy the information and find it useful. Perhaps some mechanism would be needed to prevent companies selling misinformation about themselves.

Perhaps the most difficult issues would be verifiability and ethics. Verifiability could be incorporated into the feedback rating (when rating a seller, assess whether the information was correct), or it could be made less important by the low cost of the information. Ethics could be a more intractable issue. If the marketplace was truly successful, it could tempt unregulated people to wander the nation seeking intelligence in unethical ways (sure, the whole industry is unregulated, but professional competitive intelligence analysts are born with an innate sense of ethics that never lets them stray). Even well-meaning sellers may not know how to determine whether information was properly acquired. 

Could this work?