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Using CI to assess strategic partners and disruptive threats

AARP case study presented at SCIP Intellicon 2020

December 07, 2020

Home Blog Using CI to assess strategic partners and disruptive threats
friend or foe using ci to assess partners and threats

Last month, Aiyshen Padilla, Vice President of Enterprise Strategic Relationships and Alliances at AARP and Merrell Moorhead, Head of Intelligence Products and Services at LAC Group presented at the SCIP IntelliCon Virtual conference.

The theme was Strategy Frameworks to Thrive During Disruption, and their breakout session, “Friend or Foe? Using CI to Assess Non-Traditional Players as Potential Strategic Partners and Disruptive Threats” demonstrated how one organization made efficient use of their competitive intelligence (CI) resources in the early stages of considering partnership opportunities with other companies.

In this instance we consider the companies studied as “non-traditional” players because the primary organization is a not-for-profit, and the entities it looked at are largely for-profit businesses.

Their session covered:

  • The context and nature of the challenge
  • The CI “building blocks” of the solution
  • The value of using this approach
  • Other lessons learned through the initiative

The context and nature of the challenge

Many people know AARP for its role as an advocate for Americans who are 50+, but they might be surprised to know how much more there is to the organization. AARP is a social mission organization with a membership of 38 million people over the age of 50. They are US-based but have a growing footprint internationally primarily due to the need to look at aging and how it impacts individuals across national boundaries.

aarp mission

From a partnership perspective, AARP has historically used a provider model which is based on a licensing and royalties business model. They also have a charitable arm that relies significantly on donations to reach vulnerable older adults in our nation.

In Aiyshen’s role, she has been asked to look across the enterprise and see what they should try to achieve and think about different models of partnerships beyond their current model. This is critically important given how the landscape has changed—so considering co-creation, shared value, collective impact and more.

Some of the challenges facing Aiyshen as she decided to look for more intelligence on companies were:

  • The vast universe of potential partners. AARP is a national organization, representing tens of millions of members. These members engage with thousands of businesses and other organizations on a regular basis. From a high level, the number of potential partnerships can be overwhelming.
  • AARP wants to be proactive and intentional in their approach. From the landscape of possibilities, what directions offer the greatest potential? How do they get ahead of the curve?
  • AARP has unique metrics. Their mission and values drive all of their actions, including business relationships.
  • AARP must consider outcomes, not just 38 million members. They need to look for partnerships to help drive change and make an impact versus a single focused approach.

Searching for reporting that was both quick and easy for her leadership to digest, while also delivering key insights, Aiyshen and LAC deployed a two-pronged approach:

  1. A daily tracker that allowed her to stay on top of breaking developments (new ventures, leadership changes, partnership approaches, etc.)
  2. Deep dive assessments that would deliver answers into questions like:
  • What is best for AARP’s members?
    • How does the potential partner serve and engage with their membership?
    • What value would they bring to those members?
    • Would they create any risks or potential conflicts?
  • What kind of information and thoughtful perspectives on how the potential partner would fit – or not – with AARP’s values and brand?
  • What types of “partnerships they have done” in the past or most recently?
  • What lines of business are they in, and how does that intersect with AARP’s interests?
  • Are they planning to enter into other lines of business adjacent (or overlapping) with ours?
  • What are the market opportunities?
  • What is the potential for growth?
  • Are there business risks?
  • Are there reputational risks?

In many cases, it really boils down to: Does this organization look more like a strong partner or a looming competitive threat?

ci strategy questions

The CI “building blocks” of the solution

LAC was able to approach AARP’s challenge with CI as the building blocks of the solution. As Merrell points out, “CI is a living function, not a static report” and so AARP’s strategic objectives must be driven by ongoing research and analysis.

Research goals

LAC began working with AARP to determine the essential questions that would guide the research and developed a unique research outline that included:

  • How is the organization structured?
  • What (relevant) lines of business are they in?
  • Financial overview (revenue, assets, investments, costs, debt, outlook)
  • Strategy – current goals and how are they planning to achieve them?
  • Innovation strategy and investment
  • Current and past partnership history
  • Customer relationships
  • Employee relationships
  • Other business relationships (up and down value chain)
  • Non-financial metrics: Community, ESG, etc.

Analysis goals

LAC’s mission is to answer the key questions posed to the CI team, in a format that is concise and pithy enough to work in the C-suite, but also deep enough to enable anyone that needs it to look deeper into the data. In this case our analysis goals included:

  • Strategy mapping: LAC flagged any places where the organization’s strategy was aligned—or where there was the potential for conflict—with AARP.
  • Positioning with AARP’s key member segments: Would this be an asset, liability or threat?
  • Other accelerators or barriers to partnership: This could include internal operational factors like employee relations, or non-financial factors such as environmental or governance practices, to external issues such as consumer or regulatory trends within the company’s industry.
  • Customized SWOT analysis: LAC built a customized matrix, specifically designed to address the “friend or foe” issue.
build ci solution

Faster, more agile, greater cost efficiency: The values of using CI

Based on LAC’s solution, AARP was able to get smart quickly. The analysis supplied the comfort of hard data and an independent set of eyes. The results would also flag potential opportunities or risks that weren’t on their radar at the start of the process.

The reports also provided succinct answers for the AARP executives that needed them, with enough depth and supporting data for follow up. Their team was better prepared for meetings now that they were armed with these facts and insights. It sharpened their focus when looking at the possibilities and enabled them to navigate and negotiate starting from a stronger position. Relying on CI early in the process saved AARP time and budget—delivering answers to big questions without the time and expense of a full due diligence effort.

Other lessons learned through the initiative

Upon reflection, Aiyshen learned that through using CI this way, AARP has a more solid game plan and list of targets they want to approach. Their strategic plan is evolving and they are able to hone in on more industries.

She also realized that the CI work done upfront, especially early in the process, is crucial to meeting her objectives. Having the right information and insights before she talks to a company reveals more opportunities to return and dig into more topics and areas after the initial conversations.

Leverage CI to assess an alliance or threat

In this networked and hyper-optimized business environment, the greatest opportunities and threats often emerge from companies operating in spaces adjacent to your own.

LAC utilizes CI to evaluate the fine line between an organization being ripe for an alliance versus a new competitive threat. Learn how we leverage CI to deliver new value by assessing the landscape outside of your traditional markets.

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