Competitive Intelligence,
Critical Thinking and Competitive Advantage have become the vital tools that
make up the Leeds Beckett IT Strategy. This report will critically analyse the
contribution of these tools and the effect they have on the success of the IT
strategy for the university.

Competitive intelligence is
defined by Seena Sharp as “knowledge and foreknowledge about the entire
business environment that results in action” (Sharp, 2009).

Whereas, Kahaner defines
competitive intelligence as “a systematic program for gathering and analysing
information about your competitors’ activities and general business trends to
further your own company’s goals” (Kahaner, 1998).

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In Seena sharp’s definition she
chose each word specifically for its meaning. She believes her definition is
vital to achieving the best results when undertaking competitive intelligence

Knowledge in this context can refer
to the past, whereas foreknowledge points towards the future. You must learn
and understand knowledge in the past in order to use foreknowledge to connect
to new information in the future. Foreknowledge looks forward for insight and
estimates what is to come.  The word
entire encompasses the wide range of components or factors that can impact a
business. Looking at the entire business is necessary to understand the
company’s industry or external contributing factors that can lead to success or

The difference between these two
definitions of competitive intelligence is that Kahaner focuses solely on the
goals of the company and insists on a systematic approach which might mean that
things are missed out when using the information to formulate a strategic plan,
whereas Seena takes a more holistic view of looking at the business as a whole and
taking everything into consideration when analysis and using competitive intelligence.
Sheena’s definition relates more towards a university because if management just
looked at the goals of the university and its competitors in isolation without
taking into account the entire institution then it might produce a short
sighted strategic plan which could become risky and fail.

Competitive intelligence can be
used to improve and reduce the risks associated with strategic planning; which
can benefit Leeds Beckett enormously. However, according to Susan E. Barrett,
Historically, trying to put a “competitive intelligence infrastructure” in
place within a higher education institute has faced challenges and objections
from both administrative and academic staff (Barrett, 2010). The reason that
competitive intelligence can benefit the university so much is because, Critical
intelligence methodologies can be used to analyse information that can help
with making decisions and designing strategic plans

No commonly accepted definition
of critical thinking exists.

Edward M. Glaser defines
critical thinking as “(1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a
thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s
experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and
(3) some skill in applying those methods” (Glaser, 1941).

Whereas Paul & Elder give a much
more refined and straightforward definition of Critical thinking “critical
thinking is the art of analysing and evaluating thinking with a view to
improving it.” (Paul & Elder, 2009)

These definitions show how different
academics can interpret the meaning of critical thinking.  Neither definition can be seen as the definitive,
perhaps there will never be an agreed upon definition. The best way to gain an
understand of critical thinking is to form your own opinion by reading a
variety of definitions and applying critical thinking to situations such as the
example below.

Pearson produced a report,
asking more than 400 HR professionals what skills their employees will need in
the next five years, critical thinking ranked the highest (Chartrand et al.,
2013). Critical thinking skills are highly valued because according to the
miniature guide to critical thinking a well-rounded critical thinker can think
with an open mind, seek out an alternative point of view, communicate
effectively with others to seek solutions to complex problems, and see possible
problem that could arise in a project in advance (Paul & Elder, 2009).

These skills are a major asset to Leeds
Beckett because according to Nicole Fallon, in the long run the employees will not
make avoidable mistakes which need to be fixed therefore waste valuable time or
making a decision that that gets rejected further up the management ladder. (Fallon,
2014). Avoiding mistakes and time wasting will in turn save the university
valuable money over time. Another benefit for the university could be to employ
“the elements of thought” see (appendix 2). By employing these elements, it
allows staff to scrutinise, alter and fix conflicts, this in turn allows staff
to become more adept at critical thinking while collaborating on creative
solutions to problems which benefit the university. 

In certain situations, it is
imperative staff are excellent critical thinkers. The blog business analyst
learnings’ gives this example, an investor or someone else within the
university may require a resource or function to be included in the strategic
plan that will not necessarily add any value to the university, they simply
wish it to be included to aid their own convenience. Thinking critically allows
the employee to establish an order for requirements starting with those that
add value and finishing with that add little or no value to the business which
should be given a significantly lower priority. (Anon, 2013) Critical thinking
has played a vital role here by allowing the employee to see that there is a massive
gap between what a client wants and what they actually need. Being critical
means separating the strategic plan up into added/optional functionality from
the integral functions the system must perform.

One definition of a competitive
advantage is: “is an advantage over competitors gained by offering consumers
greater value, either by means of lower prices or by providing greater benefits
and service that justifies higher prices” (tutor2u, 2018).

 “There are over 150 universities
in the UK” (Toone, 2014). The amount of universities has lead people to the
question “do we have too many universities?” (Toone, 2014). Due to the
ever-increasing number of higher education institutions, it creates a very
competitive market which creates demand for universities to gain competitive
advantage in order to attract students. John S. Daniel states that universities
are complex organizations; therefore, it is imperative that their overall
competitive strategies are translated into specific steps, which can be taken
to achieve competitive advantage. (Daniel, 1998).

According to Michael Porter an
economics academic there are two ways an organization can gain competitive
advantage over its opposition, including “cost advantage” and “differentiation
advantage”. Cost advantage means a business provides the same goods and
services as its opponents, but for a cheaper price. Differentiation advantage
is where a business offers better goods and services than its competitors
(Porter, 1985). (Appendix 1).   

According to Daniel, in
Mega-universities and Knowledge Media one of the ways universities can achieve
competitive advantage is through the incorporation of new technologies into
their teaching (Daniel, 1996). The universities are hoping to achieve an
advantage on both the cost and differentiation fronts with technology.
Technology can often cut costs drastically if utilised correctly. For example:
the complete library database being available online allows students to access
it and anywhere in the world. This provides the flexibility to study at home which
supports both regular and international students. Furthermore, having digital
books means that student costs are drastically reduced because they do not have
to invest in a large number of books. Technology also allows the university to
utilize differentiation advantage by creating USP’s (unique selling points)
such as state of the art facilities like sorts science labs or computer
forensics teaching rooms. As well as offering students products like the Leeds Beckett Virtual Learning Environment which allows
the university to provide more courses than traditional teaching methods as
they can provide access to a number of online courses to be completed anywhere
with an internet connection.

In general, Universities across
England and Wales are facing several operational and strategic challenges,
including an increasingly competitive market which generated the need for
significant efficiency savings. According to the Information Systems Strategy
plan set out by Durham University, one way to make efficiency savings is to
invest in new initiatives and technology, and to make improvements to the
universities information systems so they can be used much more efficiently (Durham,

Recent research from the Butler Group suggests that “94% of organisations
view information as important to performance”. Regrettably, nearly 50% of those
“have no clearly defined information strategy”. (Butler 2004),

It is worth investing time and money
into creating an effective Information systems strategy as it can give a very
high return on your investment. According to Architecture and Governance
Magazine, some Fortune 500 companies and government agencies have shown returns
on their investment as large as 700% which is a very big monetary incentive to
investment into an effective information systems strategy.

According to a report produced by Monash university, there
are many obstacles facing Leeds Beckett University before it can even begin to
develop a comprehensive information systems strategy. Some of the possible problems
that could arise are: complications regarding the kinds of information and the
amount of data needed to build a successful information systems strategy.
Because of the amount of data needed to start building the system, the lack of valuable
information available for decision making could be drastically reduced.  (Treloar, 2005)

According to a report produced by Monash university there
are some guidelines to understanding the development of any Information Systems
Strategy, a team at Monash university set out the following “Information
Systems Strategy principles”

“Corporate Importance”: Data is a valuable
resource, and must be managed correctly. In general, university-wide data will
be managed centrally to avoid any conflict with data protection laws regarding
the sharing of personal data.

“User-Centeredness”: Information systems and
services should have the user and the tasks its must perform at its centre. The
end user should inform all aspects of the system and its design. If the
customer/end-user is unable to navigate the system it will be completely obsolete
and unfit for purpose.

“Availability”: in an ideal world, all Information
would be accessible to anybody who needs it. However, that is not possible
because of data security rules and regulations as well as acceptable use
guidelines. The best designers can do it make certain information available to
the correct people on any device.

“Staff and student involvement”: Throughout the different
stages of development and implementation of the information system strategy
everything should be as open, transparent and inclusive as possible.

“Productivity and efficiency”: Information
travels though the university, it is important to regulate the way in which
information is managed. The strategies implemented to control the flow of
information should contribute to the productivity of members of the Leeds
Beckett University community not hinder their productivity. (Treloar, 2005).

These IT principles will support and enable the
implementation of the information management principles, as well as determine
the deployment of IT systems.

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