Intelligence in the Oil Patch: Knowledge Management and Competitive Intelligence Insights

Helen N. Rothberg, G. Scott Erickson


The fields of knowledge management and competitive intelligence have been joined in the literature for over a decade, as scholars recognized the emphasis in each field on developing knowledge, albeit of different types.  While knowledge management is often limited to the human, structural, and relational capital of the firm, competitive intelligence is more outward looking, building a broadly sourced knowledge base concerning competitors. In fact, practitioners are one step ahead of academia in this application as many organizations have a connection between their knowledge management and competitive intelligence functions.  In extensive depth interviews to ascertain the state of intelligence work of all types in contemporary industry, we found such an inclination to be prominent in a number of specific industries.  One of these was oil and gas.  While exploration, recovery, refining, transportation, and retail are all separate aspects of this broad field, it is collectively of interest, in large part because of this extensive scope. In this paper, we compare and contrast knowledge management and competitive intelligence practice in oil-based industries. In doing so, we draw upon an extensive database including financial returns of thousands of companies in a broad range of industries over a five-year period. Looking specifically at industries related to oil and gas, we review data concerning the level and importance of knowledge assets in each industry. Included in the database is additional information on competitive intelligence activity in each industry. We add these figures to the analysis, allowing us to assess the relative competitive intelligence threat levels. Finally, we discuss the results from the depth interviews we conducted with practitioners in these industries, sharing their perspective on the nature of knowledge management, competitive intelligence, and the interplay between them in this complex industry.

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