Monday, June 19, 2006

Law Firm Competitive Intelligence -- is it different from KM?

The Boston Globe today has a fairly in-depth article on law firms. Sacha Pfeiffer reports that firms are beginning to gather information on other firms and their clients, in order to compete for business:

For lawyers, that analysis might mean understanding how an upcoming merger of law firms could change the competitive landscape, how an anticipated regulatory change could affect business, when a practice area is ripe for expansion, or whether the arrival of a national law firm poses a threat. Without that knowledge, a law firm could overlook a promising opportunity to merge or lose a lucrative client to a rival firm.

These are tactical considerations that sound basic to many business people and perhaps even obvious. But some law firms have been known to make strategic decisions based on little more than intuition, gut instinct, or such ill-considered factors as opening a new office based on the desire of a single client, expanding overseas because a rival has done so, or allowing a bigger-is-better mentality to drive a decision to merge.

I have linked the Globe article in the title above. Evidently Fuld & Co., of Cambridge, MA, are offering seminars to local firms about how to compete in a more corporate manner. I'm confused, though; isn't this just an application of what firm librarians have been offering for a decade or so, under the name "Knowledge Management?" KM has been a buzzword in libraries for quite a while, so I am not clear on what Fuld & Co. offer to the firms beyond a new name...

I would love to hear comments from lawyers or firm librarians on this topic. Has your firm investigated this new "Competitive Intelligence?" Is it new and different from the KM librarians have been offering for years? How?


Connie Crosby said...

I would distinguish CI from KM, although you are right, they are related, and librarians have been doing at least elements of both for a long time.

CI, as you mention, is information on other firms and their clients. It can also be information as to how others see you and what your own market share is, and as information on your own potential markets and clients. It is all about competition and getting a leg up.

KM is a little more inward-focussed; trying to gather together the internal resources of an organization so they can be shared, reused, repurposed, in a way that makes things more efficient for the organization and hopefully for the client. It is also about sharing expertise, not just documents.

Certainly there is an overlap with CI, KM and librarianship. And professional development. And IT....they really are all interconnected via KM as far as I can tell.

I am not a specialist in any one of these areas (well, except librarianship), but to the best of my knowledge these seem to be some of the distinctions!


Connie Crosby said...

Oh, and then there is the on-going debate about knowledge versus information. Same thing? Different? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Thank you, Connie! Very interesting comments. Re your comment on the distinction between Knowledge and Information: I think of information as the data. Knowledge is what you get after you digest it -- sorry, that's awful. :)

Connie Crosby said...

Yeah, I was at a KM conference last week and some people felt they are along the same continuum, some felt they are distinct, and others use the words interchangeably. Ones personal philosophy on this can affect what is included within a KM program within an organization.

To my mind, whatever you call it if it is useful just do it. 8-)