The BPS Industry has a long history of exchanging confidential information between clients and providers. Yet more often than not, parties recognize the confidential nature of the information but do little to safeguard and protect unauthorized disclosure. Disclosure of this information can have devastating effects on relationships, deals, business and trust. The time has come to take this industry-wide issue seriously by joining together to adopt a BPS Code of Conduct to protect confidential information.
As a past member of SCIP, the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals, and Competitive Intelligence Director, I’ve spent numerous hours explaining and training colleagues on the importance of understanding how to obtain and use proprietary information. And even though it seems that I’ve participated in countless webinars, websites, blogs and one-on-one conversations, BPS professionals still feel vulnerable and confused when dealing with confidential information.
A recent study of industry executives and analysts conducted by Everest Group confirmed this point. In response, I WANT YOU to make a personal pledge to get involved in supporting an initiative to take confidential information seriously and commit to processes and procedures to guard against disclosure.
Tensions on both sides contribute to poor performance
There’s no doubt it’s a double edged sword when it comes to providing and protecting confidential information. The Everest Group study captured this point by uncovering the tension between a buyer enterprise’s need for information during the buying process and its contradictory obligation to protect its own information following the sale. The buyer expressed this comment before the sale, “You [the provider] need to disclose the client name and the vertical. The case study is not believable without the client name!!” while the vendor management executive’s commented after the sale “… [the provider is] not allowed to use [our] name or marketing logo on any materials at any time.”
Logos emerged as a major flashpoint. Why? Aggressive sales people are often successful because they stretch the limits to win the deal—including unauthorized use of customer logos. This simple act has deep ramifications. Most corporations spend a great deal of time and money to build their brand, develop unique brand assets, including logos, and protect the integrity of their brand. Inappropriate usage of these assets therefore touches the heart and soul of the organization. And when logos are used when the work performed is not related to the services proposed, credibility and the deal can be lost.
Providers also feel threatened by exorbitant client demands for sensitive information on business processes that are integral to their competitive differentiation. Buyers with detailed RFPs have traditionally pressured providers to disclose specifics on methodologies, processes, tools and other confidential information without appropriate processes in place to safeguard this information after it’s documented and in the hands of the buyer. Everest Group also found that advisors can be contributing to this tension by demanding this information on behalf of buyers during the procurement process.
Having worked for a large, multinational service provider, I understand the sensitivities and tensions on both sides. As a corporate marketing director, implementing a centralized repository with easy-to-access boilerplate RFP responses, approved customer success stories, and rules on using and disclosing confidential is just one way to help reduce misuse. This individual company approach is fine but doesn’t go far enough given today’s competitive, content-hungry mentality.
Creating an Industry Wide Solution
Given there are problems on both sides of the aisle, an industry-wide solution is the right approach to this disruptive, potentially costly problem. If buyers, providers and advisors take an active role to change inappropriate behavior, everyone will win.
After consulting with representatives from Everest Group responsible for conducting the study, we agree there are three key next steps that would support an industry wide BPS Confidential Information Framework.
1.) Establish a BPS Code of Conduct. The code of conduct proposed encompasses the seven points listed below:
- Treat Confidential Information as a valuable asset
- Honor and respect Confidential Information obligations
- Gain mutual agreement on each party’s proprietary information
- Ask only for the information necessary to make decisions
- Identify and protect items deemed confidential
- Disclose no Confidential Information without the expressed permission of the information source
- Communicate to the affected party regarding incidents where Confidential Information may have been inappropriately disclosed
2.) Organize a joint implementation plan. Figure 1 outlines simple requirements for both buyers and providers to adhere to in implementing the code of conduct. Consider utilizing Big Data and other knowledge management systems already in place or undergoing upgrades. Implementing a solution does not have to add significant time or cost.
3.) Operationalize the plan. Set in place an operational framework that includes policies, processes and tools that help every employee understand the importance and easy steps that can be taken to protect confidential information. Policies that come from the top down and are reinforced by management at all levels is critical. Internal policing can go a long way in changing behavior. Linking to reward systems provides additional incentive to comply. Training and communicating to all employees on a regular basis via mandatory online tools is another best practice that can be put into action.
I WANT YOU….
To join me and others to start this industry wide conversation.
One idea identified by Everest Group is to create an industry code of conduct certification program. This could go a long way to raise the professional standards and conduct and promote consistent understanding and best practices. As new practices emerge, certifications can be updated or extended to ecosystem partners and advisors.
Consider becoming an “evangelist.” As a thought leader, you can move the industry forward on this important topic and increase your circle of influence across industry associations, buyers and providers.
There’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved in changing the way the industry treats confidential information—being part of the collective response is your duty.