Monster Competitive Intelligence

Posted in Intelligence
By David Kaplan -

I had lunch last week with Ed Melia of P3 Capital Ventures.  A couple of months ago, Ed had introduced me to a wonderful opportunity to volunteer at Boston’s Career Collaborative and we got together after helping out there last Friday morning.  Ed has a fascinating perspective on human capital and is a leader in the use of technology-driven solutions in the areas of screening, assessment and candidate selection instruments and their use in partner acquisitions and other human capital related strategies.  Ed did pioneering work in this field in his role at and so he naturally connects online hiring and business strategy in thoughtful and sophisticated ways.

Ed asked me if I had seen the April 30, 2009 Wall Street Journal article In Major Shift, Apple Builds Its Own Team to Design Chips.  I had not.  Ed summarized it for me and later sent me a copy.  He found the article interesting, “not only because Apple is fascinating to watch – but also because when you read the article, most of the intelligence gathered is from job postings on their web site (and the skills/type of technologists they are seeking) and from the human capital they are bringing in house.”  Ed told me that for years now, many savvy business strategists watched their competitors’ job postings to glean reliable competitive intelligence.  This WSJ article was nice primer on how to do it and on how much detail it can provide. 

The title of the article trumpets its conclusion that Apple is implementing a new strategy to add in-house capability to design computer chips for its various consumer products.  For many of us regularly engaged in competitive analysis the message is much broader: You may learn a great deal of “secret” competitive information by monitoring the public job postings of competitors.  The methods used by the WSJ reporters and the intelligence that these techniques yielded are instructive:

  • Keeping track of high-level new hire announcements by your competitors’ may reveal important data about their product plans: Apple recently hired Bob Drebin and Raja Koduri, both ex-CTOs of the graphics product group of chip-maker AMD.
  • Published job descriptions in job postings may contain gems. Apple’s postings reveal a broad search for people with experience relevant to “testing the functional correctness of Apple developed silicon.” Other Apple job descriptions “involve handwriting recognition technology … [and] managing displays.”
  • Researching a competitor’s recent job postings may also connect to their publically announced acquisitions. Apple earlier had purchased chip-maker P.A. Semi. In discussing that acquisition, Steve Jobs had remarked that “You can’t just go out and buy the chips off the shelf” to run increasingly sophisticated software on iPhones and iPods.
  • Industry insiders expect that P.A. Semi engineers could “help create ARM-based chips that could improve the performance and battery life of future iPhones” and these are well-known goals for those products.
  • Competitor participation in job fairs can provide more clues. Apple recruited “soon-to-be-unemployed engineers at memory chip company Spansion, Inc.,” which was headed for bankruptcy.
  • Targeted networking on Linkedin may produce valuable competitive data. Linkedin contains “more than 100 people listing current Apple job titles and past expertise in chips, including veterans of Intel Corp., Samsung and Qualcomm, Inc.”

Thinking about the online search techniques that the WSJ writers used led me to wonder about using other searchable social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the new Google Profile for competitive insights.  Perhaps searching those sites with key words that relate to competitors’ hiring just might turn up idle chatter containing useful increments of additional “secret” information.  So I searched Twitter with the keywords Apple chip design to give it a try.  The shear number of results surprised me, but the timing of the earliest ones was an even more unexpected discovery.

There were quite a number of Tweets referring to What’s Apple Building in There? by John Paczkowski.   On April 27, a few days before the WSJ revelations, Paczkowski posted his article connecting Apple’s P.A. Semi acquisition to the Bob Drebin hire.  I raise this not because the WSJ may have drawn from the Paczkowski article without attribution; that may or may not be so.  The larger point is that keeping an eye on blogs about an industry, a specific competitor (such as Apple) or selected competitive trends trends (such as chip design) might also yield valuable inside information – even if the WSJ never covers the company or the issue.  

All these competitive information gathering techniques will work for any company, large or small. These methods could help your company avoid getting blind-sided by an unexpected competitive challenge.  Should you be watching more closely the company web sites of your competitors and the job boards, blogs, PR releases that refer to them?  Perhaps most companies need to establish a procedure for systematically searching the web at regular intervals for this kind of crucial information.  Check Useful Links on our HOME page for a well-researched list of resources for conducting competitive intelligence.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,