In olden times (before the Web), finding information was difficult. If you wanted a phone number in another city/state, you used your phone book to find the area code and then called 411. Electronic databases that you called via modem were available but required specialized search training. These wagon train days also led to a certain creativity when doing competitive intelligence research. You frequently had to back into the information you needed. If you were clever enough, you could maximize those resources and make 2 + 2 = 10.
My Top Three Favorite Pre-Web CI Research Projects are (in random order):
1. Chicken Eggs. Also in olden times, influenza vaccines were made from chicken eggs. Vaccines can be made in other ways now, including in caterpillars. Back then to determine annual vaccine production, we would call chicken farmers in Pennsylvania to find out the vaccine egg crop yield.
2. Job Ads. Job ads are a gold mine of information. Not so much nowadays, but back then, companies would list their technologies, their reporting structure, and sometimes even their strategic plans (“we need a sales manager for Europe because we are launching our new product this year”). I created organization charts, analyzed the technical prowess, and discerned product development plans from job ads.
3. Patent Trees. Patents are a great source of information: employee names, corporate research interests, corporate locations, partnerships, etc. By tracing patent families, you can see where companies are investing their research dollars. You can also see how technology has evolved. While creating a natural language software patent tree, I discovered that the origin of natural language software is actually spell checking software. As I recall, three IBM patents from the early 70s form the basis of the research into natural language software.
Connecting the dots between research results and methodologies can be circuitous and entertaining.