Where is competitive intelligence going? (Part 2)

February 15, 2013

One of the factors affecting where competitive intelligence will be going in the next 5 to 10 years is the growing, albeit slowly, presence of courses at the college and university levels dealing with competitive intelligence. That growth can be seen, indirectly, in the growth of the International Association For Intelligence Education.

Through these courses, the cadre of people available to conduct some CI for businesses, nonprofits and the like will be growing gradually. But the CI business will have to adjust and adapt.

In the past, those entering the CI business have been either self-trained or government trained. In the former case, they represented people from a wide variety of disciplines including market research, the law, statistics, library science and the like; in the latter case they represented national intelligence, both military and nonmilitary, as well as state and local intelligence, typically law enforcement.

That meant people who were working in CI were already used to functioning in the business and government environments. With people coming out of colleges and universities having had courses in CI, we are dealing out with a group of people who are not yet used to working, but understand, perhaps more clearly than some of the dinosaurs, the principles of and best practices in CI.

So what does this mean? It means that those in the CI business, whether in company CI units or working as outside consultants/contractors, have to look at the way that we recruit and integrate new members of our teams. In the past, we were recruiting and working with people who knew how to work, while perhaps not being familiar with CI. Now, in some cases, we’re looking at the opposite.

My concern is that not all of us are in the position to do this. The ones best positioned for this are company CI units, where the corporate culture is more used to bringing in undergraduate or graduate level entrants, training them in the “company way” and utilizing them while developing their skills.

This is not a methodology which many of those in the CI business on the consultant/contracting side are probably familiar with. This, coupled with the coming influx of individuals who are government trained, I think will result in a change as follows:

For those in the CI units, they will see a building up from the bottom, bringing in individuals knowledgeable in competitive intelligence, but not experienced in it. That could mean that the awareness of CI throughout businesses will expand as these new employees disburse throughout the enterprise – even if they do not do CI on a full-time basis.

For those on the consultant/contracting market space, it means continuing to bring in individuals with more work experience, but still with little experience in competitive intelligence. In the past, as CI was growing, it was easy to integrate people like this because, frankly, we were all developing competitive intelligence to the point where it stands today. But tomorrow? Will that mean that this wave will continue to add to building CI? I suspect that we should be able to see a change in that those coming in are not building competitive intelligence, so much as refining it and applying it differently.

Will this mark a divide in the backgrounds of the CI units and consultants/contractors? If so, what will that mean? I suspect it will make a significant difference in the next 5 to 10 years.

How to write up your analysis (Part 1)

October 23, 2012

Recently, the members of the International Association for Intelligence Education, individuals involved with teaching military, diplomatic, police or business intelligence, have been discussing communications, and particularly writing.  Their general feeling is that most people who write up the results of an intelligence analysis assignment do not do it very well.  Of course contributing to this could be the fact that, in the eyes of some of these people, few people write anything well.

However, let’s focus on writing up the results of your intelligence research.  This is a complicated topic.  In future posts, I will give you some hints about how to organize your research to help you when you move into the writing stage (Commercial message – there are a lot of these in our book, Proactive Intelligence: The Successful Executive’s Guide to Intelligence).  But here, let me get across a couple of points that impact your writing and can help you improve it rather quickly.

One, in spite of the existence of voice recognition packages, writing is different from speaking.  Those differences may be diminishing, but they still exist simply because in writing your audience cannot hear your inflection, your emphasis, and the concepts you stress. So, spend enough time on your writing – first drafts should be just that – drafts which are improved by reviewing and rewriting them.

Two, remember that anything that you write down will have to be read in the future by someone who cannot talk to you.  If you are writing it for your own records, remember that when you read it again seven days, two months, or six months from now, you will not have at hand all the research that you did, nor will you have retained all of the analytical nuances and insights that came out of analyzing that research.  So make the document complete.  In other words, start by saying what it is you were researching, that is the question or questions you were trying to answer.  Then, answer each of them in turn, including the supporting research at that point.

Three, analysis is not the same as data.  When writing up a report or file memo, consider keeping the two items separate.  One way is to simply label your analysis as “analysis”, “conclusion”, “discussion”, or the like.  And separate the supporting data from that heading.  By doing this, you communicate to the reader where the data ends and your analysis begins.

Four, keep it simple.  A report is not an exercise designed to show how smart you are or how well you have mastered the English language or some scientific subset of it.  You are trying to conclude your research with a clear message.  Simple means be direct, not indirect. For example, in general, things do not happen.  Events or people or something else caused them to happen.  Write your sentences that way.

Five, if you do not know something, or you could not answer a question, say so.  It is very deceptive to make it appear that your analysis or your memo is somehow a complete coverage of the topic when you know, and we all know, that the odds of it being complete are remote. For example, if you do not know the cause of some event (see Point Four above), say that.

Six, keep it short.  From time to time there may be reasons for you to detail or record all that you did not find, resources you could not utilize, or other such omissions.  However, that is the exception rather than the rule.  In addition to keeping the report short, keep your sentences short.  As a general rule, if you cannot read a sentence back aloud without taking a breath, it is too long.  Cut it into two or even three shorter sentences.

This discussion will be continued from time to time.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please just let me know

Intelligence is What – Exactly?

July 26, 2012

Alan Breakspear, a fellow member of the International Association For Intelligence Education (IAFIE) from British Columbia, is proposing “A New Definition of Intelligence”, as follows:

“Intelligence is a corporate capability to forecast change in time to do something about it. The capability involves foresight and insight, and is intended to identify impending change which may be positive, representing opportunity, or negative, representing threat.”

It is OK, I guess. But I think, at least in the private sector, it is missing one key element – that is completing your knowledge of your competition so that you can decide what, if anything, you can/should do (or avoid doing). Without that, the real value-added benefits of any kind of intelligence, including CI cannot be available.

I mean, if you do not know what your competitor is charging for its products/services, how can you identify how, when, and in what direction they may change? For many businesses, just filling a part of this information void is a valid and valuable goal for CI, especially if their competitors lack similar intelligence.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” (Erasmus, 1500; Tom Waits, 1985).