I recently read a post by a college professor lamenting how hard it is to keep up with the exploding knowledge in his field. He acknowledged that undergrads could probably learn it faster on-line they he could learn it and retransmit or reframe it. I watched a YouTube video (circa 2006) which suggested knowledge in at least some fields is doubling every 72 hours and that interval is dropping.
Same problem besets competitive and business intelligence space. Here are some thoughts on principles to help manage this.
1) Define Key Intel Topics (KTIs) very carefully, clearly and regularly. If you are a full-time person in CI, typically 80% of your work should be defined by 3-5 key issues as agreed with your key internal customers and senior management. Context will be intimately linked to key results your organization has to obtain or has committed to over the next x months or years.
2) Use aggregating tools of your own design or a customized one (The ABIS Group in the Chicago area has a great product) to aggregate published sources. Build these around your Key Intel Topics. Tools that track web content changes are also useful though some. Industry meetings are aggregators in a different form. Think tanks, academics, associations are aggregators.
3) Always use Subject Matter Experts (SME) early in your process to steer you. Many of these have navigated, penetrated, and filtered the same overwhelming info environments and issues you are seeking to understand. Often they have already synthesized conclusions. But - they too don't know what they don't know if there networks are inadequate. By definition info is probably obsolete if it's written down. May more SME's are now more easily accessible on-line through Linkedin questions, blogs, twitter, Facebook, etc.
4) Think of yourself as the hour glass for CI in your organization. Train the entire organization to operate in a disciplined fashion of dumping things in the top of the hour glass while you watch everything going through. Make it easy for everyone to do so, to understand the value, to be recognized for doing so. Make this your CI brand.
CI at its best is completely democratic. Everyone participates (100% of 100 people giving 1% of their time to CI is 1 FTE!). Then extend this expectation to key regular business partners including suppliers and customers. Show them how to do this better for themselves based on what you are learning. They will reciprocate.
5) When your issues are very local to a specific region or city, tap into its local network. Look at local pubs, including e-pubs, contact Chambers of Commerce, local coaches and CEO forums, local journalists, community leaders, business networks, business incubators and other pro-entrepreneur and small business organizations, local librarians, venture cap sponsored events, events sponsored by mayor or local economic development officers (B to B events etc.), local business schools and exec mentoring events. Target local people who are former employees of a target organization (e.g. on Linkedin). Probably requires spending some time face to face in that locale - or find a local SME.