| QUALITY OF INFORMATION AND COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE:
Its importance for doing business in a strongly dynamic world with multiple
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
It is essential for a SME with a sustained presence
in multiple markets, or that is exposed to international competition in
its own market, to obtain and process quality information on those events
that have a bearing on the future and that point to circumstances that,
in due time, may open up or displace business opportunities.
There are two different kinds of events that need to be detected and
diagnosed in relation with the strategy for the international insertion
of a SME. In the first place, those that reflect the deep forces that
are anticipating significant changes in global economic competition, or
in that of the corresponding regional geographic spaces. In the second
place, the unforeseen events that may imply a turning point in the external
context that affects the competitive advantages of a business.
The accurate and timely processing of relevant information on the
international scenario, markets and competitors, enables SMEs to efficiently
manage their competitive intelligence. This can be understood as the result
of a continuous process of gathering and analyzing quality information
that may be obtained through public media -especially the Internet- and
that is relevant for the strategic planning of a business, with the aim
of preserving and developing its ability to compete in the markets where
it is currently present or where it aspires to be.
Due to their size, SMEs may have several limitations in the approach
of their competitive intelligence. A path is thus open for the development
of intense collaboration agendas between government agencies, business
chambers and academic institutions in Argentina and with similar existing
cooperation efforts in many countries, including those of Mercosur.
The internationalization of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that
project their capacity to produce goods with some kind of differentiation,
either by their insertion in transnational productive chains or by directly
reaching the spaces of consumer supply (large stores and aisles of supply
chains), is one of the phenomena that characterize current global economic
competition. This even has an impact on the external trade policies of
the involved countries and on the agendas of international trade negotiations.
This is a phenomenon that has been accentuated by the breakdown of every
kind of distance -physical, economic, cultural- between countries and
regions and that has accelerated the connection of markets and productive
systems. It is also the result of the trade liberalizations that have
taken place in the last decades both at the multilateral level through
World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations and at the inter-regional
and bilateral levels with a growing number of preferential trade agreements.
(See the information about the internationalization of SMEs, including
bibliography, document sources and videos, in the three instructive manuals
on international trade published by the Institute of International Trade
of the Standard Bank Foundation in its Virtual Library, on http://biblioteca.fstandardbank.edu.ar/).
At the same time, this is a phenomenon that tends, if not to erode, at
least to redefine the difference between what is domestic and what is
international, both at the level of production and in the trans-border
exchange of all types of goods and services. As a consequence, the crossbreeding
that characterizes the current international system -with its intense
mix of cultures, technologies and religions- has also become evident in
the goods and services that cross over the borders, making it difficult
many times to identify their origin and that of the enterprises that produce
or provide them (on this regard refer to the conference given by Pascal
Lamy, Director General of the WTO, of February 5, 2011, on http://www.wto.org/).
It is essential for a SME with a sustained presence in multiple markets,
or that is exposed to international competition in its own market, to
obtain quality information on those events that have a bearing on the
future and that point to circumstances that, in due time, may open up
or displace business opportunities. It is even more important to be able
to process such information in the perspective of its own interests and
There are two types of events that need to be detected and diagnosed
in relation with the strategy for international insertion of a company.
In the first place, those that reflect the deep forces that are anticipating
significant changes in global economic competition, or in that of the
corresponding regional geographic spaces. In the second place, the unforeseen
events that may signify a turning point in the external context that affects
the competitive advantages of a SME.
It is not and has never been an easy task to detect and decipher the
events that point to long term trends in the international scenario, particularly
for SMEs. However this becomes essential for the outline, adaptation and
implementation of the corresponding strategies for world insertion.
It is particularly so within the current international context, characterized
by a strong dynamism resulting from the continuous shifts in the relative
power of nations and in the competitive advantages of the players in the
competition for world markets. It is also characterized by the appearance
of potential opportunities resulting from the economic growth of several
emerging markets and the strong trend that can be observed in them, towards
a growth in their population having incomes and consumption patterns characteristic
of the urban middle classes.
Aside from this, unforeseen events tend to become more frequent. These
are what Nassim Taleb called the "black swan" (refer to his
book "The Black Swan. The impact of the Highly Improbable",
Random House, New York 2007). Of particular relevance are those events
that indicate turning points in economic and political processes, be it
within countries or in key regions. Even when such events reveal deep
changes in the distribution of power, in or between nations or in the
structure and behavior of the markets, they may contribute to a rapid
obsolescence of any analysis and diagnosis, making the previously crafted
strategies and courses of action more vulnerable.
The fact is that predicting the future, even the near future, has become
extremely difficult. This can be exemplified by the recent events that
took place in Egypt, with the process that led to Mubarak's resignation
from office. This event had not been anticipated to happen at the time
and in the manner that it did. For example, Paul Kennedy confirms that
the issue of the crisis of Africa's Northern countries was nowhere to
be found in the agenda of the World Economic Forum of Davos of last January
(see his report on page 39 of Clarín newspaper, Buenos Aires February
6, 2011). As indicated by Timothy Garton Ash, it is much easier to explain
something after it has occurred than to foresee it beforehand. This is
what he calls "retrospective determinism". (See his opinion
on page 29 of El País newspaper, Madrid February 12, 2011).
The quality of information is nowadays, more than ever, a relevant factor
in the ability of a SME to compete in world markets. Its importance increases
in view of the diversity of options that companies might have for their
insertion in economic global competition, which is characterized by a
strong dynamism and an intense proliferation of competitors.
The accurate and timely processing of relevant information on the international
scenario, markets and competitors enables a company to efficiently manage
its necessary competitive intelligence. The latter can be understood as
the result of a continuous process of gathering and analyzing critical
information that may be obtained from public media -especially from the
Internet- and that is relevant for the strategic planning of a company,
with the aim of preserving and developing its ability to compete in those
markets where it is present or where it aspires to be (for a definition
of competitive intelligence go to the web page of Industry Canada, cited
in the Recommended Reading Section bellow). This certainly involves a
clear idea of what goods and services a SME may project into a target
market and of what is required for them to be valued by potential customers,
many times coming form different cultures and with diverse consumption
patterns. Above all, it implies the will to have a sustained presence
in these markets.
This is not an easy task, in good measure because of the fact that there
are many competitors that aspire to reach the same customers, even from
very different countries. If those who offer goods and services have multiple
options in terms of the consumers they can have access to, so do those
who demand and consume these goods and services. The changes that are
continuously happening in the global scenario are accentuating, precisely,
the diversity of options and of protagonists.
Due to its size, an SME normally has many limitations when undertaking
and managing its competitive intelligence. This is the reason why it is
an activity that may require joint efforts with other enterprises, for
example belonging to the same regional cluster or export consortia. It
is a task where a SME may find or aspire to find the collaboration of
agencies for the promotion of trade, business chambers or academic institutions,
either at the national or local level.
In the case of Argentina, this will be of growing importance for the
future development of foreign trade in the measure that more SMEs face
the complex task of having a sustained presence in more distant and unfamiliar
markets., especially with goods with diverse forms of differentiation,
The countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East are some examples on
The need for SMEs to efficiently manage their competitive intelligence
paves the way for the development of an extensive future cooperation agenda
between government agencies, business chambers and academic institutions,
not only within Argentina but also at a regional level with Mercosur and
at an inter-regional level with similar cooperation efforts existing in
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- Beck, Ulrich; Grande, Edgar, "La Europa Cosmopolita. Sociedad
y Política en la Segunda Modernidad", Paidós, Barcelona
- Brown, Kerry; Su Hsing, Loh, "Trying to Read the New "Assertive"
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Trade Agreements: How is Business Responding?", Asian Development
Bank-Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenhyam UK-Northampton, MA, USA, 2011.
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Next Renaissance", Random House, New York 2011.
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through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement", Peterson
Institute for International Economics, Policy Brief, June 2010, on:
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B.; Woolfrey S., "South Africa Way Ahead: Shall we Samba?",
Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (tralac) - National Agricultural
Marketing Council, Stellenbosch-Pretoria 2010, on: http://www.givengain.com/.
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Comissâo de Relaçoes Exteriores e Defesa Nacional, Brasília
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en América Latina: los nuevos desafíos", in Revista
Nueva Sociedad, Buenos Aires, Agosto 2010, http://www.nuso.org/userView/notas/serbin.pdf.
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UNCTAD-DITC/2007/1, Geneva 2008, on: http://www.unctad.org/.
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and Future Research Agenda. Developing Countries in International Trade
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Integration Studies, Universitätbonn, Vol. 4, N° 3, December
2010, on: www.zei.de.
Félix Peña Director
of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director
of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero
National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the
Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian
Group Brains Trust. More