How Do You Analyze Raw Data?(Part 1)

July 5, 2012

That’s a tough one. One key is to open up your mind and then keep your mind open. As the late Si-Fi author Ray Bradbury reportedly said,

“You feed yourself [information]. Make sure you have all the information, whether it’s aesthetic, scientific, mathematical, I don’t care what it is. Then you walk away from it and let it ferment. You ignore it and pretend you don’t care. Next thing you know, the answer comes.”

It sounds good, but is it for real? Yes, it is.

Take for example a recent article in Nature where Nature reports that

“An eerie ‘red crucifix’ seen in Britain’s evening sky in ad 774 may be a previously unrecognized supernova explosion — and could explain a mysterious spike in carbon-14 levels in that year’s growth rings in Japanese cedar trees.”

Ok, so what? Well, let’s look at who made this connection. Was it a team of Japanese botanists? Or was it British radiation researchers? Or Russian astrophysicists?

No. In Nature’s own words, it was a “US undergraduate student with a broad interdisciplinary background and a curious mind.” The student in question is a biochemistry major who, learning about the rings…ready for it…did a Google search and honed in on publicly-accessible records of 8th century England, located 3,000 miles away. For the rest of the story of how he made the connections, just read the article.

But the lesson – when dealing with CI (or with any problem), the best way to approach it is to load up on all of the information and then take the time to let your mind digest it.

Cyber Criminals or Proud Parents? Defending Your Competitively Sensitive Information

July 2, 2012

The June 30 issue of The Economist wrote about the growing cost of cyber-crime.  At the end, the reporters warned that the “bad guys” were increasingly using social media to find a way in to companies’ computer systems.  If you are considering how your company is revealing information to your competitors, a good place to start might be to look at the Facebook pages of some of your employees.

Our employees are not revealing confidential information, you are undoubtedly thinking.  But employees do not always understand what is competitively sensitive, much less what is confidential or otherwise protected.

Let me give you an example. We had a client that was interested in a competitor’s ability to expand its offerings.  After some digging, we were fairly comfortable with the conclusion that the competitor, in fact, had acquired the necessary talent, employees, in this area.  But one question was left: what was its intention?

And there, we found the answer on Facebook: a family announcement about a wedding.  The congratulations message included the fact that that Bobbie, the happy newly-wed, would soon be returning to a better job with the competitor in a brand-new division.  Happily, the proud mother also gave us the name of the division.  That name was not as important as the fact this is established that the competitor now had both the capability act and had created that organizational structure.  The only question left was how soon would it move.

The lesson?  If you are concerned that your competitors seem to be getting a jump on you, don’t assume that they have hired sophisticated cyber criminals from some vowel challenged country to hack into your computers.  More likely, there is a more prosaic explanation – what your employees (or their families) are saying.