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Business Information Triangle

This guide is a great place to start for learning about the types of business information that is available to you and where to go to find it.

Business & Economics Librarian

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Jennilyn Wiley
RBD Library
231 Mell Street
Auburn University, AL 36849-5606
Subjects: Business, Economics






The Business Information Triangle is a visual model that can be useful in understanding how business information is produced, used, and shared.  Each of the points on the triangle represent a 'type' of information. 

Company information includes data generated by the company (sales figures, profit and loss statements, costs, expenses, etc) as well as documents produced either by a company (annual reports, websites, press briefings, etc) or about a company (SWOT reports, PEST analyses, investment analyst reports, etc). 

Industry and Market information includes anything that describes the broader context in which companies operate.  Industry statistics and market research fall into this category. 

Business Publications are documents that are written and published by third parties in somewhat "traditional" formats, like newspapers, magazines, journals, and websites.  This information may be about companies or industries (or just about anything else for that matter) but they exist as part of a more traditional publication ecosystem, rather than raw data and statistics or primary material generated by specific firms.  

Each of these categories produces information that is built upon by the other categories.  For example, companies generate information (e.g. sales figures) that contributes to market sizing estimates, which in turn is picked up on by various publication outlets and packaged for different audiences.  Each point on the triangle creates information but it also relies on information generated by the other categories.  Each of these information sources provides context for the other components of the Triangle, and it is this context that creates the business information environment in which each company, industry, and market exists. 

Business information can be difficult to locate, often because of its proprietary nature, and you will likely need to consult multiple resources to more fully understand a company's performance, positioning, and strategy, or to gain a better understanding of a market's composition and dynamics. 

Use the Triangle to help yourself identify potential types of business information and resources that can be useful in your research and analysis.  Use this guide to locate specific resources for each category of business research that are available exclusively through the Libraries subscriptions or freely through the internet.  And remember - you can always ask me to help you in your research! 

Competitive Intelligence

The information environment represented by the Business Information Triangle can be used for any number of business applications, including starting a small business, consulting on marketing projects, and benchmarking competitors, just to name a few.  One common use for collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing the wide variety of business information available to you is for generating Competitive Intelligence, which is also sometimes seen as Competitive Analysis or Market Intelligence.  

Competitive Intelligence is information that can advise decision makers on all things strategy.  It is a vital component of the firm's planning and management process and it can be comprised of many different analyses, like market, industry, and competitor.  Not to be confused with Business Intelligence (which is primarily concerned with internally-generated data that can also be useful for decision makers - think sales records or customer data), Competitive Intelligence borrows from the world of Military Intelligence to more fully understand how a firm is positioned and what steps might be taken to improve its positioning.  

Here are a few examples of the kinds of questions you might seek to resolve using the sources detailed throughout this guide:

  • Who are a company's competitors?
  • How has the company performed over the last three years? 
  • How do these companies compete?  Or, in which category, sector, or industry do firms compete?
  • How competitive is the industry?
  • What is the outlook of this industry?
  • Which markets present realistic opportunities for expansion?
  • Which countries provide opportunities for export?
  • How big is the market for a product or service?
  • Who are the target customers for a product or service?
  • How do we market this product or service?  
  • What is being said in the news about a company or industry?

There are many formalized analysis methods for conducting Competitive Intelligence analyses.  Here are just a few of the most common:

SWOT Analysis - "Competitive intelligence professionals often use an analytical technique called SWOT — an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Though some downplay SWOT's effectiveness, it's not a bad starting point for analyzing your position relative to that of your rivals. The output of a SWOT analysis varies, but key data typically includes a comparison of financial muscle, strength or weakness of management teams, strength or weakness of marketing capabilities, presence or absence of patents or intellectual property protection, and an assessment of distribution channels. A SWOT analysis will also look at external market conditions to assess potential opportunities and threats."*

Porter's Five Forces - "Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter developed a list of five basic forces that define the competitive landscape for any company: customer bargaining power, supplier bargaining power, product substitutes, barriers to entry, and potential new competitors. Detailing these factors provides a foundation for establishing your firm's strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your rivals."*

PEST Analysis - This framework is used in the early phases of strategy development to describe the landscape and environment in which a firm operates ( PEST stands for Political, Economic, Social and Technological). Note: It is sometimes transformed into SLEPT (Social, Legal, Economic, Political, Technological), PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental/Ecological, Legal), STEEPLE (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Legal, Ethical), etc.

*Descriptions of the SWOT and Five Forces come from