A few years ago, a large global electronics company, that had its headquarters in The Netherlands, introduced an application to support its consumer and market intelligence. This application, called Comate (Consumer and Market Intelligence Technology Environment), was offered via the company's intranet facilities to staff departments all over the world. The main rationale for developing and introducing the application was twofold. First, its aim was to channel information requests from local departments to the central Consumer and Marketing Intelligence (CMI) Department and to enhance the communication between these departments. Second, by using the system, the central CMI Department hoped to achieve standardization and efficiency gains in its governance of local departments. The functionality of Comate included access to market reports, product data related to consumers and markets, consumer and market monitors, facilities to support communication with the central CMI Department, address and expertise information of departments and people from all over the world, access to information about ongoing and finished projects, and the like. However, the figures concerning actual usage of Comate showed that the system was not being used to the extent that was expected and intended. In fact, because of the disappointing reception, the organization deemed the Comate Project a failure. A regional component proved to be present in the figures signaling this failure. In some countries, the system was used on a regular basis by at least a small group of people; in others it was hardly used at all. However, in none of the countries did the reception and usage of the system meet the standards defined beforehand.
Despite its name, the system apparently did not encourage "mating behavior." This was a big disappointment to the head of the CMI Department, Hans Broekmans, as it was his initiative to start the Comate Project and his initial ideas that constituted to a large degree the basis for the current content and operation of the system. He realized that a decision had to be made regarding the future of the Comate system, for the sake of improving the flow of CMI information, but also to prevent the failure of the system from affecting his career within TopTech or elsewhere. How should he react? Should additional functionality be added to the system? Were the datasets presently offered perhaps not the ones Comate's users desired and should others be added? Was the interface perhaps difficult to use, and if so, why? Should additional measures be taken to instruct, support, and guide the users of the system? Or should the discontinuation of the Comate Project be considered?
At the time Hans Broekmans had only some vague notions as to how to answer such questions. He had no clear idea as to which reaction to the disappointing reception of Comate would be most appropriate. He therefore decided not to rush things, as apparently he had done when the system was built, but to look into matters a little more carefully. He formed a project team with a threefold task. First, the team should evaluate the use of the current system to identify reasons for the current lack of usage. Second, he requested an exploration of possible redesign alternatives based on a diagnosis of the current situation of how CMI information was produced, distributed, and used. Third, he asked the team to specify the lessons to be learned from the evaluation of the current system and the diagnosis of CMI's operations, and to use these lessons for substantiating a recommendation as to what the appropriate path to follow would be, i.e., redesigning the current system, reconsidering the procedure of its introduction, or abandoning the project altogether. He decided to appoint the head of his IS department, Johan van Breeveldt, as the project team leader. He selected two of his Information System (IS) developers and two marketing specialists as team members. As it happened, a student from the Nijmegen School of Management had just applied for a position as an apprentice in order to conduct her final thesis research. She and her thesis supervisor were also added to the team.
With a total turnover of approximately 30 billion euros in 1998, the company in question (a multinational electronics firm that will be referred to as "TopTech" in this case study) is a Top 10 player in its field. TopTech is a strongly diversified concern operating in some 80 business areas varying from consumer electronics to medical systems and from software to semi-conductors. These activities are clustered into eight divisions. The case studied here involves the division TopTech Consumer Electronics (TCE). Together with the Domestic Appliances and Personal Care division, TCE constitutes the Consumer Products product sector. In terms of sales, TCE is the biggest division of TopTech (a 28% share in total sales; the other divisions' shares range from 2% for Software and Services to 23% for Components and Semiconductors). The products of TCE are marketed in the fields of information, communication, and entertainment. In this market TopTech is one the world's top three market players. The total workforce of the division consists of approximately 46,000 people worldwide. The organization of the division is based on two combined principles: a product principle, leading to six business groups (television, video, audio, peripherals, consumer communications, and digital networks) and a regional principle, leading to four regions (Europe, Asia and Africa, North America, and South America). The intersection of regions and business groups leads to 24 Business Planning Teams (BPTs) that are accountable for their own results.
The case study concerns the Consumer and Market Intelligence (CMI) function of TopTech. CMI closely relates to what in the literature is more commonly referred to as Business or Competitive Intelligence (BI or CI). Kahaner (1996, p. 16) offers the following description of CI: "Competitive Intelligence is a systematic program for gathering and analyzing information about your competitor's activities and general business trends to further your own company's goals." CMI at TCE is organized as a central staff department located at headquarters (Central CMI), and CMI departments for each individual business group (CMI BG TV, CMI BG Video, etc.) as well as for each individual region (CMI Europe, CMI NAFTA, etc.) located at various places in the world. The overall goal of the whole CMI organization is (1) to ensure the representation of ideas and perceptions of consumers and business partners in TCE decisions and processes, and (2) to provide an objective judgment of the outcomes of these decisions in terms of sales, shares, prices, and distribution. Within this context, the mission of Central CMI is to: "Proactively provide accurate, reliable, and valid Consumer and Market Intelligence to TCE Units worldwide within a clearly defined structure of professional methods and TopTech's values" (TopTech internal memo).
CMI generates and uses both internal and external sources. External sources range from contracted research by investigation bureaus to United Nations reports and monitors, and from statistical data from national bureaus of statistics and other commercially available panel data to publicly available intelligence on the Internet. Internal sources involve marketing, financial, and logistical data. The users of these sources are intermediate and end-users. Intermediate users are staff at various CMI departments who may benefit from reports from other departments (reports drawn up for one region or business group may also be relevant to others, etc.). End-users are product and marketing managers in the business planning teams as well as general management of TCE.