CI and Decision-making

October 25, 2016

Last week, I reviewed AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence (2016). This week, I want to deal with some of the important lessons that this book has for CI DIYers and for CI professionals in general. These particular lessons deal with what intelligence, including CI, actually should provide to decision makers.

One chapter, “Intelligence Analysis: A Guide to its Study”[1] notes that

“Wise policymakers understand that they cannot know all of the possible outcomes of the decisions they face. Intelligence analysis serves to bound their uncertainty, to give policymakers a better sense of what might or might not happen, based on known conditions, the actors involved, and the decisions made….’{B]ounding uncertainty’ is not the same thing as telling someone what will happen.” (p. 291).

In one of the very first chapters, “Decision Advantage: The Why of Intelligence”, the two authors there note that[2]

“Intelligence provides more than decision advantage. Less evident – but absolutely critical and generally unrecognized – is that it can provide decision makers with decision confidence.” (p. 7, emphasis in the original).

For the CI community, these are important concepts to ponder, and then to communicate to your team and to your internal clients:

  • First, it is must be clear that competitive intelligence is not about predicting, with certainty, the future. Rather, it is about making predictions that make the decision-maker, the internal client, more comfortable in making necessary decisiona.
  • Second, at its best, CI is also designed to provide your firm with a decided decision advantage. So, determining that a competitor is likely to enter a new market that you are looking at can provide your firm with a decided decision advantage. How? Your firm can now make a decision about expansion with less uncertainty about the competitor’s own intentions towards that market.
  • Third, as for decision confidence, consider the power that your firm’s decision makers have coming from the fact that your competitor does not know that you have figured out its expansion plans.

So now, when thinking about CI, and, in particular when pitching it to your peers and to your internal customers, keep in mind all of these elements of CI – reducing decision uncertainty, providing decision advantage and delivering decision confidence.

[1] Mark Lowenthal, PhD., pp. 291-96.

[2] N. John MacGaffin III & Peter C. Oleson, M.A., pp. 13-20.

The Study of Intelligence

This is a review of AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence, Peter C. Oleson, Editor. Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Falls Church, VA,, 2016, 740 pages, $95.00.

First, a disclaimer. I am one of the 70 – yes 70 – authors contributing to this massive work.

AFIO’s Guide has been in the works for 6 years, and that kind of work shows. The book is a comprehensive and extremely readable look at the entire subject of intelligence and at teaching about it. It is not restricted to governmental intelligence – it is much broader than that, although many of its contributors are former government intelligence community members.

I said readable, and I really mean that. This book is aimed not only at those teaching about governmental intelligence, but also those teaching where intelligence is one topic of interest. To me that includes history, politics, foreign relations, civil rights, and civics among other subjects. As a history buff, I am enthralled by it.

Peter Oleson and the contributors have joined to provide not only a guide to teachers, but a guide to their students as well. At the end of each chapter, there is a short, well-selected reading list for more on the chapter’s subject. Also, scattered throughout are tips for teachers, such as suggested exercises and sources for additional original documents. The authors’ footnotes also provide leads to innumerable sources found on the internet. And the book closes with over 50 pages of valuable leads to information sources, popular books and more reading on intelligence.

I have taught competitive intelligence, and can say that several of the chapters in AFIO’s Guide would have been very valuable both to me and to my students. From a personal point of view, the book is fascinating. I suggest that we think of this both as a guide to those teaching the study of intelligence as well as a guide to those of us who wish to learn more about intelligence even on our own.

Whether online or hard copy (my choice), this is a first-rate read, and worth getting just for that. It is also an extremely valuable resource for anyone who teaching about intelligence and its impact on politics and government as well for those who would like to learn more about intelligence in general.

10 Rules for Doing Your Own CI Research and Analysis

October 13, 2016

I want to share 10 basic rules with you DIYers which you should keep in mind when doing your own competitive intelligence research and analysis:

  1. Be honest – admit that you have not always been focused on what your competitors are doing: Even if you have been trying to keep up with what the competition is doing, your efforts have almost certainly been sporadic and incomplete. If you are not really keeping up, you are probably just assuming you know what the competition is doing. Never assume you know what your competitor is doing, and, more importantly, never assume you know what it is planning to do!
  2. Know who your real competitors are: They may not be who you think they are. Ask your customers what other firms else they considered before they chose you. Those should be considered competitors, too. And keep an eye on your partners, suppliers and even major customers. They can, and often do, quickly turn into competitors.
  3. Ask lots of questions: If a customer leaves, find out why he/she is leaving and where he/she is going. Keep track of the answers you get. You may find a pattern that warns you of emerging competitors or new initiatives. Then you know what to focus on.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the competition — as they really are – today: Take the time to visit and revisit their stores, study their facilities (if possible), check out their web sites, and find out who owns them. Regularly track data about your competitors in the public domain – press releases, newsletters, new government filings, etc.
  5. When you study your competitors, never assume they see things the way you do: Your competitors have their own vision of the marketplace – and of your firm. Even if you think that vision is dead wrong, always keep in mind that they are guided by it and will operate in accord with it, not on how you think they should behave.
  6. Decide what’s important – and what is not: There are some things you can’t do anything about no matter how much you know about them. Focus on supporting important decision-making, not on merely satisfying your own curiosity.
  7. Don’t assume there is nothing you can do, even if you know what your competitors are up to: Effective CI does not always provide an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage, such as launching a new product. But sometimes it provides a vital early warning of a threat that can help you survive!
  8. Don’t get pressured into trying to measure exactly what CI is doing all of the time: While there are many aspects of CI where you can measure the impact, you cannot attach a number to everything CI can do for you. For example, what is the value of knowing a competitor will beat you to market or knowing that a competitor’s planned initiative will run into problems because the construction of the plant supporting is behind schedule because it still lacks some key permits?
  9. Be realistic: With the increasing focus on security on all fronts, some sources of raw data CI that were available in the past are no longer open to the public. Others may not be in the future. Always keep these changes and possible changes in mind
  10. Do it right – or don’t do it at all: CI is an ethical, legal activity. Never let yourself get pressured into doing anything that is not totally ethical and legal. There is never any good reason to be unethical or illegal.