Competitive Intelligence Strategic Foresight
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Member Intel Q&A - Francina Sharma

Francina Sharma

SCIP member Francina Sharma is Director, Business Intelligence and Insights at STARS Air Ambulance, a Canadian non-profit that provides rapid and specialized emergency care and transportation for critically ill and injured patients. We recently spoke with Francina about what resources she find helpful to keep her skills up to date, managing a career pivot from a cancer scientist to a BI professional, and the role that intelligence plays in her organization's mission of providing critical care.



"Like any other transformation, digital transformation isn't a simple one but it is required to progress in today’s world."

Tell us about yourself.

At STARS Air Ambulance, I work in the capacity of Director of Business Intelligence and Insights. My role is to help identify where STARS fits with respect to market needs, and to find opportunities for STARS that are revenue-generating, feasible and long-lasting.


What advice do you have for someone starting off in strategic, market or competitive intelligence? What skills should they hone, and what technologies should they be comfortable with?

Strategic Competitive Intelligence at the outset would seem like anybody’s job but once you step in – you very soon realize that it's no easier than anything else. It is achieved by detailed market research and leveraging new potential opportunities with the existing technology, placing the company ahead of its competitors, creating, developing, and nurturing relations with new potential clients, and by building and sustaining long-lasting client relationships.


What approaches have you found effective in ensuring that insights drive action, rather than just sitting on the shelf?

Getting to the stage where you are able to draw insights with respect to the needs and the resources available, aligned with the needs of the market is itself a huge step. But once we get there, it is also important to be able to translate that information into actionable insights. So the first step would be to align one’s goal to the market and then fill in the gaps that arise because of this alignment. In so doing, put the required processes in place that yield and gauge the market effectiveness of the acquired insight and see it translate to revenues ahead.


Given Digital Transformation, what opportunity do you see for strategic/market/competitive intelligence to bring unique value to the table?

Regardless of the business you are in, every business should update their skills and technology to maintain the pace with the competition. Competitive intelligence is all about maintaining this pace and, in fact, staying ahead in this race. Like any other transformation, it’s not a simple one but it is required to progress in today’s world. For automobile giants, it meant investing in software that gathers more information about drivers and prospective drivers, their reactions, requirements at touch points recorded in CRM data, etc.  With this data one can have a predictive analysis report and from there increase the chances of success on their future campaigns.



What's been the best piece of career advice that you've received? 
Never stop learning.
You are never too old to learn. As long as you can, as accessible as learning is, try to make the best use of resources that are available to you!


What are some great books and resources that you've found helpful in your career?

I use online tools mostly for learning and keeping my skills updated. Particularly, I use PluralsightData Science Central, Research Gate and Coursera whenever I have a few hours to spare. These courses can be achieved at one’s own speed and keep you in the moment always as required by the needs of the market.


What's a productivity tip or lifehack that you use often?

Everything is online these days. We are moving into the millennial age where everyone likes to be mobile, proactive and be as effective as they can be as soon as possible. I have also found this very appealing sometimes, especially when I am in the middle of some project and I feel I could do it better if I could master some other skills that can be easily accessed online.



What’s one thing you’ve done in your current role (or a prior one) that you’re particularly proud of?
STARS is an air ambulance services company established in 1985 out of sheer need and nobility on the part of two pilots who were medically trained as well. Initially, it was volunteer-based but grew in the coming years to become one of Canada’s biggest private non-profit air ambulance companies. Now the sound of the “red helicopter” is the most soothing sound for the ones who are in need of critical care. And since this is a non-profit organization that works on the motto – “Every life is worth fighting for”, it becomes necessary to be able to cater to the needs with proper programs and events in place. The Foundation group works night and day organizing fund raising events to generate funds, and as a BI professional in the business development group, I try as well to find the best ways to generate revenue that can be utilized in the noble cause of saving lives.


Tell us about an interesting, off-the-wall, or particularly fun job that you had earlier in your career
My career now has settled down as a BI professional, but by training I am a cancer scientist. My very first job abroad was that of a Guest Scientist (Gast Wischenshafftler) at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.  My project involved the extensive use of robots all day, including different kinds of robots from Genetix that poured bacterial cultures, plated, amplified DNA and then spotted them as libraries all around. I felt weird when I came out of the lab where there were no sounds etc. It took me a while to tune in between these two variants.


How has SCIP helped your career?

SCIP has helped me stay in the field of competitive intelligence and keeps me updated about bootcamps, courses, seminars and other tools that one would use on a day to day basis. It keeps me connected to the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence community very well. I am glad to be a part of SCIP.


Get involved 

One of greatest values of SCIP is the power of our member community. The experience, knowledge, and intellect of our members are unparalleled. To build off these strengths, SCIP is launching a program to highlight our members and the great work that they do. Are you interested in sharing your story? Please contact us to nominate yourself or a colleague.


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