This is the first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with CI pros who work in law firms. My goal is to understand better their backgrounds, skills, reporting structures, contributions, and outlooks.
Name: Bill Fiora
Title: Manager of Competitive Intelligence
Firm: Nixon Peabody LLP
Since: October 2007
Q: What’s your job description at Nixon Peabody?
A: My job here is to help the firm spot new growth and business development opportunities, in terms of geographies, client industries and within existing client relationships.
Q: Who are your typical CI clients at the firm?
A: My clients are the firm’s management committee. My assignments don’t come from individual partners.
Q: How did Nixon Peabody recruit you?
A: I could see that the function was very well positioned in terms of my having an impact on strategic issues and being able to focus on analysis, rather than on information collection.
Q: How is the intelligence function organized at your firm and to whom do you report?
A: I report into the Market Intelligence function, which at Nixon Peabody includes competitive intelligence, market research, and industry teams. I report directly to the Director of Market Intelligence, and she reports to the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Q: What are some common key intelligence topics you’re asked to address?
A: Essentially, I try to figure out where our key client industries are going, what their areas of growth are, and where our firm might consider being in the next three to five years, both in the US and abroad.
Q: What experience or training has prepared you most for the CI work you’re doing now?
A: I’ve been working in CI so long it’s hard to say. My first intelligence job was with the CIA, where I worked for six and a half years. Then for ten years I was a CI consultant, helping companies establish and improve their CI capabilities. Through all that I’ve been able to see or learn quite a few best practices, traps, and key success factors.
Q: What’s your formal educational background?
A: I majored in government and history as an undergraduate and have a master’s degree in international affairs.
Q: What formal CI training have you had?
A: Very little, actually. The last formal CI training I had was when I was working for the federal government. Since then I’ve been delivering more training than I’ve been taking.
Q: What’s been your involvement in the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)?
A: I joined SCIP in 1995. Since 2003, I’ve been a member of SCIP’s national board, first as a member-at-large and the last two years as SCIP’s treasurer. I’ve also served on the steering committee for a local Boston chapter. I’ve written articles for SCIP’s publications and presented at most of SCIP’s annual conferences and at chapter meetings on topics like analysis and dissemination. The dissemination aspect of CI is something I care a lot about, making sure CI deliverables are relevant, succinct, and forward-looking, not just summations of what’s already been published.
Q: Where do you look for professional inspiration and mentors?
A: These days, most of my mentors aren’t in the CI field, but do strategy work in corporations or specialize in information delivery methods, visualization, and writing techniques. I’m spending less time these days learning how to get information and more time learning how to present information in ways that will have an impact on decision-makers. They include visual designers, professional writers, psychologists, and people like Edward Tufte. I also study how consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, and leading business publications present information and analysis visually.
Q: What aptitudes do you think are necessary in a good CI professional?
A: You’ve got to have an insatiable curiosity and be comfortable with ambiguity. You must also be able to write very well, which is probably the most underappreciated skill in business.
Q: How would you describe the future of CI in the legal industry?
A: I think CI definitely has a bright future in the legal industry as law firms get larger, competition intensifies, and our clients' global business issues become even more complex. This has already happened in the larger accounting and consulting firms, which established sophisticated CI functions when their industry went through similar changes. Right now, CI is a hot topic in law firms, but only those firms that approach CI in a serious manner and position it as a strategic function will see a competitive advantage. In time, those firms that try to do CI halfway or on the cheap eventually will go back to business as usual.