Competitive intelligence from satellite images of car parks

Counting cars in car parks is part of the folklore of competitive intelligence. It can sometimes be useful, for example for counting employees, but rarely so. The theory that if a company's car parks were full into the night, the company was preparing for a product launch, is difficult to measure as people work longer hours and as key products may be developed by small teams (or, in software, teams that are not even in the country). Another idea, that a company whose car park had better cars paid more than one with ordinary cars, was always flimsy, and untrue for many companies (such as Google) where displays of wealth would be unseemly.

However, UBS is counting cars as a way of measuring how well retailers are doing. An excellent idea although perhaps too expensive for a normal company to use as a source of competitive intelligence, since the data cannot be too old. Eventually, this data will be available in real time (something Google mentioned years ago, and which will follow the same way that Google Real Time followed Google Search). That will open up possibilities: counting employees walking in and out of buildings, counting customers and their demographics, etc. The capabilities that in previous years were only open to national agencies, will soon be open to anyone with a budget.