competitive intelligence in China

Tuesday 28 April, 2009

I attended the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals annual conference/exhibition & honed in on a workshop entitled Competitive Intelligence in China, which proved to be very interesting.  The guru of CI in China, Qihao Miao, of the Institute of Scientific & Technical Information of Shanghai, made a presentation. Interestingly, Miao tried to form a chapter of SCIP in China, failed, then formed a Chinese equivalent, SCIC, which now has more members than SCIP.  He offers a few tips:

  • learn the Chinese language, not the dialects,
  • do not believe local “ancient Chinese wisdom.”
  • when in Rome (China), be yourself, not Roman(Chinese)

Awareness & use of CI is growing in China, especially in the interior regions & 2nd tier cities.  The Chinese feel an urgent need to invest overseas, which creates a need for more CI.  They recognize the need, but can’t serve themselves, so they’re looking outside for that expertise.  Although CI can’t be separated from the government, it is referred to as NCI, a national intelligence infrastructure, i.e. trade early warning system to sense change in trade of foreign partners.  Regional governments have increasing CI needs as well, since regional competition has been 1 of the critical factors in China’s 30 year growth.  He even cites Hu Jintao saying, “An information & intelligence supporting system for decision-making should be strengthened.”  The emergence of Chimerica (the merged economic interests of China & America) recognizes that ignorance leads to wars & that a knowledgeable China is a blessing & not a curse for the rest of the world.

Gary Lim made a presentation on cultural barriers to getting competitive intelligence, highlighting differences in relationships, hierarchy, & communications.

Q&A proved to be provocative.  David DeChant chimed in that CI needs to find those guanxi connections while 10-12 million Chinese join the middle class each year.

While there are restrictions on publishing, the media, & the internet, the government understands information flow is necessary.  However 1 must also understand, 20 years ago, all information was government-owned.  Some market research is still controlled, i.e. opinion polls that are not strictly product-oriented.  Some project plans still require approval of the national statistics bureau, but not necessarily the results.  Matching your strategy with government’s desires can help you get things done.  Self-censorship can be just as dangerous.

A Baxter exec posed a question & found Chinese companies can be tightfisted with their information.  Panelists said it’s even tough for Chinese companies to get information on other Chinese companies.  Distribution issues can be top secret in China & sometimes getting this kind of information can be quite political.

An executive who worked with Ingersoll Rand, who wanted to buy out a local partner, couldn’t get information.  The response was, “in a market where 20-60% of all goods are counterfeit, it’s difficult to get accurate numbers.”

Obstacles for Americans are client expectations & cultural barriers to sharing information.  For foreigners, perceptions of the law differ-it’s gray in China, not black & white as in America.  Even for locals, a lack of basic comparable statistics like GDP is frustrating.


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