Protecting Yourself?

In the past weeks, there have been several items that indicate a continuing shift in concepts of privacy, which of course impact competitive intelligence by making it easier (in theory) to develop data and harder to keep it from our competitors:

  • Hammacher Schlemmer’s catalog now offers a watch which can take digital photos and even movies. For corporate security staff, this adds another problem. For years, many facilities barred bringing in cameras, to avoid pictures being taken of processes, products, or even posted documents (you would be surprised how many plants have “secret” formulas and passwords posted on the wall). Then, with the addition of cameras to smart phones, they tried collecting these phones. Of course, some corporate security operations are already on the watch for Google’s Glass. Now, do they have to take our watches? How about just not allowing employees to take third parties into areas where there are sensitive machines and the like?
  • There are continuing efforts from financial regulators to make ownership more transparent – read making it easier to find and tax money – both legitimate and criminal. There are already pressures on the US to force the states to collect and provide beneficial ownership information on businesses of all forms (usually not collected by most states), and on other ownership forms, such as trusts. Undoubtedly it will be fought by tax professionals (as well as criminal defense lawyers), but it is probably coming, slowly.
  • In the December 2013 issue of Entrepreneur, the “Ethics Coach” column dealt with competitive sensitive information and your employees. The common message was to treat employees fairly – thus creating a better protection for this information than can be created by agreements and policies. That says a lot about the failure of traditional approaches.

Who do you trust?

November 14, 2013

 In my last blog, I pointed to the late Tom Clancy and the story that US naval intelligence wanted to find out how he got his information for his novels. In reply, one of my readers indicated he felt this was an urban legend – and gave us his source. Good point and well presented.

The Clancy Los Angeles Times obituary and the one in the New York Times seem to support the story that I related that has circulated for years (See, for example, one version in

However, and this is a lesson for all of us involved with competitive intelligence, just because you read it in a usually reliable source doesn’t guarantee that it is it true. And just because, in one version or another, it is repeated in or supported by what appear to be other reliable sources still doesn’t guarantee that it is true. That could just a case of false confirmation.

It is only true if and when you have confirmed it to be true. And, by the way, just because I say it is true still doesn’t make it true. Always check for yourself. That is real confirmation.

Secondary is not necessarily second rate

November 5, 2013

When we talk about research for competitive intelligence and other types of research, we tend to classify it into secondary research, or what some people call desk or library research, and primary, that is interview based, research. The unfortunate part of this terminology is that secondary somehow carries with it the inference that it is second rate, while primary is carrying the inference that it is somehow superior.

While primary certainly is critical, particularly to developing CI on issues like intentions and capabilities, secondary research is not only vital to prepare for your primary research, it is also vital in and of itself.

Let me give you an example of that. Some weeks ago Tom Clancy, the well-known author of techno-thrillers, passed away. For those not familiar with the genre, the techno-thriller includes as a major part of its presentation very detailed information on the use of and the capabilities of technology, such as what  technology systems can do, how information technology really operates, etc.

In Clancy’s case, he dealt with weapons, weapons systems, military tactics and military strategy. The story is told that following the release of his first big hit, The Hunt for Red October, Clancy was interviewed by representatives of US Naval Intelligence. Their concern was that he “obviously” had access to top-secret information that he drew upon when describing the capabilities of both US and Soviet war submarines. Clancy, then an insurance broker by trade, finally was able to convince US Naval Intelligence that he did not access to top-secret information to write his compellingly accurate book. Rather, so the story goes, Clancy told them that everything that was in the book, which was very accurate, he had located in the open source materials made available to him in the reading room at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

So don’t sell secondary research short. And before you jump into your primary research, make sure you have completed your secondary research.