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Review of STRATEGY! (version 2.5)


Competitive Intelligence Magazine

by Ellen Naylor and Robert Aaron

STRATEGY! (Version 2.5) is a well thought out Microsoft Access application designed to help the CI practitioner organize and report competitive information and analysis. The tables, relationships, and report designs are already in place. All the analyst has to do is gather the information, decide what he or she wants to track, and add that information to the database.

Reporting is handled by over 150 prepared report designs, which can be printed or published to an organization's intranet. Reports can vary from a standard competitor profile, economic data, and government data to drilled down tactical comparative reports. Some of the more popular reports include: product feature comparisons, strength/weaknesses comparisons, selling against competitor's products, and personality profiling.

The objective of STRATEGY! is to give the user a software tool that acts as a repository for all competitive information. The program is built around Michael Porter's "5 Forces" model, so it is intuitive for marketers. The result is categorized, summarized, sourced, and distributable information. The sourced information can also be assigned reliability ratings.

Thus, the system organizes a CI professional's life by centralizing all the relevant marketing, sales, product, pricing, personality profiles, and strategy information in one place. For example, competitor profiles can all be housed in one place and can be kept up to date. Since the information is sourced, users will know how old the information is. Competitor product features can easily be kept current. Information from purchased reports can also be incorporated.

STRATEGY! is designed to be the central repository for CI information and analysis, and it presumes that one or possibly two people will be chiefly responsible for selecting the appropriate competitive items and populating the database. Reports can be distributed in print or via an intranet, but it's not a collaborative tool. If you are looking for collaborative software, STRATEGY! is not for you. If you are looking for centralized control by one or two people, STRATEGY! is a great, cost-effective solution.

Installation

Installation of the software is easy since it is built around Microsoft Access, a widely used and familiar Windows program. Thus the actions of the software are familiar, nimble and flexible. One can fill in the screens and easily create new screens to suit a user's needs for data. But, as with any competitive database, filling in the screens with competitive data is time consuming.

For those companies that are not familiar with Access or who lack resources, Strategy Software offers its "FastTrack" provider network to help with installation, training, and maintenance. This team will also input the competitive data for a fee, if no one is available to input it from your staff. Some customers commented that they used this service because FastTrack consultants are familiar with the software and CI, and thus create a more user-friendly and efficient database. Some companies have hired Strategy Software to customize STRATEGY! by adding certain features or a whole module to the existing software, which conforms to their particular industry specs.

Software Upgrades and Service

The software seems to be always in some form of development. We evaluated version 2.5. The company is seeking ways to improve the software constantly. Many of the upgrades implemented come from customer suggestions.

Service includes maintenance and software upgrades. Some customers we interviewed hired STRATEGY! consultants several times to keep inputting competitive data. Others use these consultants to keep the system data current. This is always a key issue with databases; depending on the number of competitors, products, etc., keeping the database current can be almost a full time job.

Cost

STRATEGY! is a very affordable software considering its functionality and easy of use. The average cost per corporate user is $2,000, but prices can vary depending on licensing arrangements, training packages etc. Every customer interviewed mentioned that STRATEGY!'s low cost did influence the buying decision. However, due to the variance in service offered by STRATEGY!, we were unable to get clear pricing information.

Maintenance is offered for an annual fee, but it varies depending on the service that the customer selects. Maintenance can include problem resolution, new software upgrades, populating the fields with competitor data, and training new employees on the software.

Customer Response

Customer response was generally quite favorable. Most people queried were either in CI or product management. In general, users believe the software is easy to use and have brought up the system quite rapidly. Some companies have phased in installation, for example, initially focusing on applications that benefit sales.

Many customers like the fact that STRATEGY! is a centrally controlled They believe the data is more apt to be accurate, and to stay current. It is easier for a user to inform the system administrator of changes, rather than have that user make changes independently.

Other comments from customers were that STRATEGY! is really geared to one person or small departments within large companies. The software helps users structure competitor profiles. There are more fields to fill in than most users have data for. One user who has had the system for 1‡ years says he has only filled in about 30% of the preconfigured fields.

A problem cited was the high cost of providing access to too many people in the company. While users can create reports and send them to employees around the company, one user would like all marketing employees to have direct access to the system so they can make their own queries.

Users also commented on occasionally running into the Access data field size limit of 255 characters; sometimes it was hard to enter all the commentary they'd like.

Our Take

STRATEGY! is a thorough attempt at creating a central repository database for competitive data. If one isn't intimidated by the large number of fields that may never be used, or daunted by the effort of data entry, it is an excellent addition to the CI software shelf.

Since STRATEGY! is a relational database, you can recombine and repackage information to your heart's content. The same information can be used to create a company profile, a product comparison, a financial report, and a market analysis.

However, given the fact that it is a Microsoft Access application, there are some points to keep in mind. Access is relational, so the data has to be entered with close attention to what kind of information it really is. One can't just dump information into STRATEGY! if one wants to get good performance out of the system. Access has a primitive full-text retrieval capability (it's really more like a word processor string search), so users that have a lot of textual material in the database might want to consider purchasing a text retrieval package that can work with Access files. An example of such a product is dtSearch, which at $199 for a single user is a real steal. Take a look at www.dtsearch.com.

STRATEGY! has particular strengths, it seems to us, in the area of product comparisons and lines of business. It is appropriate for rigorous analysis that is pretty highly structured. It is not really appropriate as a place to store anecdotal information, impressions, comments, or other relatively unstructured information. And, as noted above, those looking for a collaborative tool will not find it here.

STRATEGY! employs a data-driven model for its database. If what you want is a tool that takes facts and figures and turns them into attractive and useful reports, then STRATEGY! is for you.

System Requirements

Workstation:

PC with Windows 95/98/NT
Pentium 100 MHz Processor or better
24 MB RAM or more
SVGA Monitor with 600 x 800 resolution or higher.

Network:

STRATEGY! (Version 2.5) is compatible with most common networks including Microsoft NT Server and Novell Netware.

Contact Information:

Strategy Software Inc.
624 W Hastings Rd, Suite 9
Spokane, WA 99218 USA
+1 509-321-0314


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http://www.strategysoftware.com

Ellen Naylor brings over 20 years of results-oriented marketing experience in the telecommunications, utilities, healthcare, financial services and computer industries. Ellen worked both in line sales and marketing at AT&T and Bell Atlantic. She initiated Bell Atlantic's competitive intelligence effort for commercial business, where she developed a process to capture competitive intelligence from the sales force. In 1993, Ellen formed Business Intelligence Source, a company that enables process development and provides in-depth analyses to support initiatives in product development, mergers & acquisitions, marketing strategy, customer intelligence and marketing research. Ellen has held leadership positions for SCIP on the board of directors and with the Minnesota chapter over the last 10 years. In 1995, she was awarded SCIP's Catalyst award.

Robert D. Aaron is president of Aaron/Smith Associates, and since founding the company in 1981 he has managed its competitive intelligence and knowledge management consulting services. He was formerly the chief researcher for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, where he was in charge of the background research for the reporters. He is the Atlanta chapter coordinator for the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, a contributor to SCIP publications including Competitive Intelligence Review and CI Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at SCIP educational programs. He is also a faculty member at Clark Atlanta University, teaching research skills, knowledge technologies and distance learning techniques at their graduate school of library and information studies. He has been quoted or featured in publications such as Computerworld, The New York Times, InfoWorld and Forbes.