Competitive Intelligence Software Comparison
Darren van Reyen
Professor Jonathan Calof
“Software has become an important weapon in the CI arsenal, but it does not truly analyze. It collects, contrasts, and compares. True analysis is a process of people reviewing and making sense of the information.” | 1
-“What Competitive Intelligence Is and Is Not” Leonald M. Fuld, President, Fuld & Company
This article compares and contrasts two Competitive Intelligence (CI) software suites: AttaainCI™ (produced by Attaain, Inc. of New York, USA) and Knowledge XChanger™ (produced by Comintelli AB of Stockholm Sweden).
The authors were somewhat taken aback by the number of CI software providers in the marketplace, offering products ranging in capability from simple news monitoring to fully-integrated enterprise applications. The Attaain and Comintelli products were selected for comparison because their features and capabilities should make them attractive to medium-sized and large businesses that would invest in software to enhance a dedicated CI program. Roughly equal in capabilities, and with enough features to provide a basis for comparison, these suites prompted the authors to dig in to their similar features to differentiate which product held the edge in categories we thought likely to be valued by decision makers.
We noted that Fuld & Company produces an Annual Software Report that evaluates software according to the five steps of the intelligence cycle, awarding ratings on a 5-point scale between “poor” and “excellent”. While we think this is an excellent basis for comparison, we wanted to produce our own methodology. Accordingly, our methodology assesses the software according to two broad categories:
• “Sources”, which considers how well the software coordinates inputs to the intelligence process – the company’s own people, the company’s own data, and the data that people acquire form external sources; and
• “Functionality”, which considers how well the software enables the company to convert inputs into useful information – and ultimately actionable intelligence.
Our evaluation criteria are depicted in the diagram below:
Figure 1: Software Evaluation Criteria Hierarchy Diagram
As we are only comparing two products, we are conveniently able to determine which company holds the edge in each category (with a summary at the end of this report).
Of note, cost is not a consideration in our analysis. While surely a key criteria for decision makers, we chose to concentrate (as Fuld does) on creating a guide for decision-makers for measuring the capabilities of the software. As the cost of this software is so highly dependent on the specific modules and licences purchased, we felt decision-makers would be well situated to exercise judgement in this regard.
 Internal Sources
When it comes to internal sources, there are two aspects to consider: internal data and internal people. Some studies have shown that the majority of a company’s information needs can be satisfied within the organization | 2 (Grzanka, 1999). This goes to prove that CI software that scores high on internal sources will get ahead in the sense that it will allow for better analysis and recommendations. Evaluating two CI software packages on the basis of their sources is a tedious task, and so to simplify the process, questions are posed under each data source to assist in differentiating the two CI software products. The companies’ websites were used as sources to answer those questions.
 Internal Data
Does the Software collect information from e-mails, internal documents, and/or reports?
Comintelli uses Apache Solr™ to search and collect internal information published in Microsoft Documents, PDFs, internal web pages, and e-mails. It also allows users to search by source type.
AttaainCI™ is web-based Software that does not mine or search internal company data. The sole focus of this software is external sources.
 Internal People
Does the Software allow users to add and publish information into the information management system of the CI Software?
Comintelli allows users to “publish” articles into the Knowledge Xchanger™ data management system. The publisher can add topics or keywords to his/her article, thus contributing information into the CI system. XChanger also allows for automatic detection of topics of the published article.
AttaainCI does not allow users to input internal data into the information system. As mentioned before, the focus of this software’s information sources is external.
Figure 2: Comintelli Funneling of Internal and External Sources. Source(Comintelli)
 External Sources
Both Comintelli Knowledge XChanger™ and Attaain CI™ draw upon a vast array of external data with the aim of strengthening a given company’s competitive position. When considering the capabilities of competitive intelligence software, with respect to gathering external data on other companies, two aspects should be distinguished from each other:
 Fixed Sources
These would include:
• Historical artefacts, such as PDFs (e.g. Annual Reports)
• Financial statements
• Biography of an executive team or board of directors
• List of competitors
• News archives
• Stock market trends
• Magazine articles
Our analysis reveals that both software suites have about the same breadth of fixed sources.
 Dynamic Sources
These would include up-to-the minute, refreshable information from external entities (companies), such as:
• Mergers and acquisitions
• Latest news from online sources (e.g. CNN, BBC)
• Current stock price
• Job posting activity
• Web 2.0 technology
• RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
• Social network links (such as linked-in, or Facebook)
• Twitter or blogging
• Web analytics for the competitor site, e.g. last URL of entry
Figure 3: AttaainCI Information Integration. Source(Attaain)
For responsive and alert competitive intelligence, the second category, dynamic sources, would tend to be preferred. This timeliness lends an element of quality to the external information being extracted.
Clearly, due to the ever-changing business landscape, such alert competitive intelligence could provide a sober second thought to a company’s business plans; for example, a decision to acquire a firm could be subverted if recent news depicted that firm as being under investigation by the SEC. Another example would be if the firm’s stock price had taken a sharp drop in the past 24 hours. Such occurrences might compel an acquiring firm to dynamically change course on its original decision.
Comintelli: Comintelli’s Knowledge XChanger™ has the ability to gather user-supplied info and recent news and announcements, but does not have quite the same abilities as Attaain when it comes to gathering Web 2.0 information and web marketing intelligence on competitors.
Attaain: As per Figure 3, AttaainCI™ is highly versatile and resilient in up-to-the-minute gathering and synthesizing of web marketing intelligence, and Web 2.0 functionality such as Twitter and blogging.
Summary: Our finding is that AttaainCI™ exceeds the capabilities of Comintelli as far as dynamic external sourcing.
 Quality of Sources
Both Attaain CI™ and XChanger™ have full-fledged search capabilities on external sources such as customers, companies, or partners.
In the case of XChanger™, a Find menu at top is used to produce a search page, which contains various linked categories pertaining to your company’s industry. For instance, for an auto dealer, the list of categories could include indexed categories on alternative transmissions (e.g. fuel cell, electric, hybrid), brands (e.g. BMW, Audi, Chrysler) and Information Type, among others. Each category would contain links to external sources. This is semantically referred to as the “topic map” which links to fixed sources, one search at a time, in a user-friendly manner. Also, by applying connectors, Knowledge XChanger™ Search can be extended to index content outside of the Knowledge XChanger™ Server (such as databases, websites or file systems)| 3.The topic navigation option allows for multiple search topics to be selected and executed at once. Alternatively, a simple search text box can be used (as per Find Topic option in lower right of Figure 4).
Figure 4: XChanger Topic Map. Source(Comintelli)
Regarding AttaainCI™, this offers categorized searches of external sources with respect to
 XML as enabler
Both Attaain® and XChanger™ contain XML functionality for the capturing of key live information on external web sites and displaying it within the software. Comintelli’s XChanger™ Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise versions all contain the Knowledge XChanger™ database, which entails all content being stored and managed in XML format. All content, regardless of origin and format, is meta-tagged and, thereby, can be easily navigated, the company says| 4. Likewise, Attaain maintains all external data gathered in XML tags. Since XML is object-oriented, if a new instance of the object being extracted were to change, this will refresh on the dashboard of the CI software.
 Web Marketing Intelligence
On the right of Figure 5, we see how Attaain provides full ability to extract and distill the web marketing intelligence of a given competitor. Current product evidence shows that Attaain (but not Comintelli) provides this functionality, which must be explicitly turned on by the user; there are no default competitor web page monitoring features. By engaging in this proactive measure, the software can identify a number of intelligence-yielding indicators: what inbound links were used to access the competitor website (thus giving an indication as to the competitor’s business clients), what search keywords were used to locate that competitor (assisting in decisions for search engine optimization and ranking) and what are the leading sites by keywords, among other abilities.
The shrewd business analytics manager will capitalize on this intelligence for his/her next search engine marketing campaign.
Figure 5: Attaain Web Marketing Intelligence. Source(Attaain)
Summary: the quality of sources in today’s fast-paced internetworking world is largely and rightfully determined by speed of responses. Since Comintelli lacks the ability to provide near-real-time reporting on web intelligence for competitor sites, and does not integrate social networking and blogging features – rather relying on more fixed definitions of competitors (as far as brands, makes etc in the car example of Figure 4) then it is definitely inferior to Attaain in this regard. We clearly recommend AttaainCI™ as the preferred candidate for source quality.
 Planning and Summarizing
The functionality of the software with respect to its Planning and Summarizing abilities has been assessed in two areas: (1) Research by KIT or Topic and (2) Frequency of Information Update.
 Research by KIT or Topic
This reflects the ability of the software to focus research on specific KITs or topics of interest to the user, versus simply providing volumes of data that the user must sort through to find something of value.
Attaain: Attaain’s functionality spans two categories: Research and Tracking. Research enables exploration across multiple lines of business covering competitors, sales prospects, customers, partners, industries, and more. Tracking enables capturing and categorizing information into meaningful groupings according to business lines.
AttaainCI subscribers receive full access to Hoover Inc’s engine, which provides proprietary business information on 65 million companies and 85 million executives worldwide. This includes information on “business descriptions, revenues, employee counts, family tree information, key competitor lists, management biographies, executive compensation, and much more.”| 5
More interesting, however, is that Attaain also gathers a wide range of “web 2.0” and social media info, which includes: | 5
• blog discussions
• Twitter discussions
• social media bookmarking
• stock quotes and SEC filings
• hiring activities and hiring trends
• documents and white papers
• website metrics/performance; and
• on-line advertising metrics.
Comintelli: Comintelli’s Knowledge XChanger™ is a search-based application that uses a proprietary classification engine to “automate the tasks of aggregating content from several sources, structuring it using topic maps, analyzing, searching and finally delivering it in a relevant format to authorized users.”| 6
Knowledge XChanger™ has predefined templates – “Competitor Profile, PEST, Five Forces, SWOT, Four Corners ValueNet and Event Reports.”| 6
The software also has a benchmarking capability, in which various metrics can be compared against best practices according to “flexible side-by-side comparisons of profiles (e.g. companies, products, countries), where you can select not only which profiles to compare, but also exactly which data fields to compare.”
Comintelli’s Matrix Analyzer is “a unique and patented analysis tool for searching, visualizing and generating reports on unstructured information in a matrix format.” Comintelli Agents enables automatic monitoring of customized keywords and/or websites.
Summary: Comintelli’s templates and matrix analyzer provide good functionality with respect to planning searches and organizing automatically retrieved information. The benchmarking is a unique and valuable functionality. However, Attaain’s classification by business line is likely to prove more practical-- and in any case information produced can be easily re-organized according to desired models (five forces, etc). Attaain’s more comprehensive Web 2.0/social media functionality, combined with Hoover’s Inc. support ultimately give it the edge in this category.
 Frequency of Information Update
This category reflects the ability of the software to provide timely information to the user.
Attaain: AttaainCI™ “continuously monitors, filters, and integrates intelligence from a wide range of sources. These include targeted web site spidering, selected data extraction from multiple search engines, news sources, blogs, social media, Twitter and connections to many other dedicated marketing/competitive data sources.”| 5
AttaainCI™ organizes information into real-time, up-to-the minute dashboards for people, companies and markets tracked. Users receive e-mail alerts with updates on specific areas of interest. AttaainCI™ Industry Profiles are updated quarterly by First Research and synthesize hundreds of sources.
Comintelli: Comintelli XChanger™ enables users to set up personalized alerts via Email, RSS, or the Start page when new articles or information become available.
Summary: Attaain’s dashboard capability goes one step beyond simple notification and makes Attaain superior in this category.
 Sharing and Communication
A company’s employees are its best source of competitive intelligence. CI is a whole-company activity. This category assesses the capability of the software to span the organization and to engage employees in the production and sharing of meaningful information and analysis.
 Number of Employees Involved
This category reflects the software’s ability to span the organization. Both software suites can be fully accessed by all employees through the interface portal, as desired. Consequently, this category is a draw.
 Information Flow & Arrangement (Centralized vs. Decentralized)
This category assesses the software’s ability to share engage employees in intelligence production. The system must be sufficiently decentralized to enable employees to produce and share information across the organizations functions, yet sufficiently centralized to contain a useful, accessible repository of intelligence and to support the intelligence requirements of senior management.
Attaain: Attaain’s “Collaboration” functionality enables important documents and business information to be confidentially shared across all company disciplines. There is additional ability to share documents between certain teams, which could prove useful in developing/actioning KITs.
Attaain’s Documents Module enables confidential, web-based document sharing. Users can capture, tag, view, print, and share documents in all common formats (e.g MS-Word, .pdf, MS-Excel) from within the system. Users can create formatted notes in important information to be shared with all- or only specific- users.
Comintelli: Within Knowledge XChanger™, users can find, publish, and share information by publishing (on webpage), voting, flagging, and chatting. Users can start or participate in discussion groups and add comments to articles in the system. Web surveys can be conducted. Comintelli’s PeopleFinder identifies subject matter experts and particularly active users.
Summary: Both software suites provide very good functionality in this regard and enable users to upload and analyze both internal and external documents. However, Attaain’s more robust capabilities to share documents between all users or within certain teams are likely to prove more useful when developing KITs and producing analysis reports for senior management, and therefore give it a slight edge in this category.
Comintelli Knowledge XChanger™ is generally considered to be for a larger enterprise market than Attaain CI™, and as such, would be expected to be more scalable in the face of a higher volume of transactions and business relationships. As far as searching capability, XChanger™ uses the Apache Solr™ platform; Solr is highly scalable, providing distributed search and index replication, and it powers the search and navigation features of many of the world's largest Internet sites.| 4
However, scalability is really a function of two elements:
1) How many queries (tagged searches) have been set up;
2) The company’s user base.
With respect to the former, everyone being alerted about everything would not prove to be scalable; it is ultimately up to the CI administrator (if such a position is designated, and we recommend it would be) to selectively tag only those users on a need-to-know-basis depending on segment, function, etc. With respect to the latter, one caveat that may manifest over time is that the same user is part of several different group alerts on tags covering the same topic. Thus the size of the company will dictate “housekeeping” measures to keep scalability intact. The advantage of having a web-based solution, as is the case with Attaain CI™, is that system resources (hard drive, memory, processor) need not be as intensive as a desktop solution.
 Comparison Table – Software features
This table summarizes which software package is deemed superior as far as software features by source and function, given the coverage and assessment so far. In some cases, they are roughly equal.
Table 1: Comparison of SW Features
In conclusion, after examining AttainCI and Comintelli Knowledge XChanger, we find AttainCI superior in most of the assessment categories we developed. We also propose that our assessment categories can serve as a guide for decision makers when comparing attributes of CI software products.
1“What Competitive Intelligence Is and Is Not”, Leonald M. Fuld, President, Fuld & Company, 2011. http://www.fuld.com/Company/CI.html
2 Grzanka, 1999. Knowledge Management Vol. 2. No. 4, 42-50