Knowledge Strategy

The four roles of intelligence

14 Sep 2008  

Here’s an excerpt from my chapter in the new book Starting a CI Function (SCIP 2008.)

In each organization, the specific mission for intelligence, and the intelligence plan that supports that mission, will vary.  However, a set of “information deficiencies” that is strikingly similar across many organizations, across all industries, remains.  These include:

  • There is too much information “out there”, and often it’s hard to find. According to the search engine Technorati, the number of blogs is now over 93 million-with 175,000 being added each day. Not all of these have business value—but a surprising number do, and should be on your intelligence “radar screen”. And it’s only going to get worse. A recent study (“How Much Information?  2003“, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley) found that worldwide information production increased by 30 percent each year between 1999 and 2002.
  • We can’t even quickly mobilize the information we already have “in here.” A recent study (conducted by Accenture and reported in “Managers Have Too Much Information, Do Too Little Sharing, Says Study“, Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, InformationWeek, January 3, 2007) found that large company managers spend an average of two hours a day looking for data they need-then when they get it, they typically find that about half has little value.  This is due to organizational silos and lack of governance systems that define how and where information is to be shared.
  • We’re not sure what it all means, and where it’s going. The science fiction writer William Gibson said, “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” The seeds of the future are in the present—right here, right now.  It’s just that figuring out which events are “trends” that you should study closely, and which are “blips” that you can safely ignore, is not so easy.
  • We’re not sure what to do about it. Even if you had perfect information—which none of us does, or ever will—it is still often not clear what to do about it.  Stanford professors Pfeffer and Sutton (in The Knowing-Doing Gap, Harvard Business School Press, 2000) have described a “knowing-doing gap” that afflicts most companies, and prevents them from effectively using much of the knowledge they already possess.

There are four key roles that corporate intelligence plays in a typical organization.  Each of these roles addresses one of the fundamental information disconnects discussed above. For each of these intelligence roles, a specific set of benefits will result.   We’ll start by listing these benefits qualitatively-then later try to quantify them.

First, intelligence finds, filters, and edits “news” and other information that could be useful to the organization. This includes information from secondary sources like the Internet and databases, as well as from primary sources like contacts in the industry (including those internal to the organization).  Intelligence serves the role of the advance party.  We’ll call this role “SCOUT“.

For the Scout role, benefits could include:

  • Capture things that we would otherwise miss.
  • Reduce the amounts of time each of us has to spend chasing things down.

Second (and these are not in order of importance), intelligence serves as a central clearinghouse for information already gathered. Archival hard files and electronic repositories are maintained, and intelligence becomes the reference point for future efforts.  If the intelligence process is seen (as it should be) as relying on an internal network, the intelligence function is the center of that network.  We’ll call this role “HUB“.

For the Hub role, the benefits could include:

  • Make sure we are all working from the same data set.
  • Make sure we do not have undesired redundancy in the system.
  • Coordinate so that we do not have gaps in coverage.
  • Make sure that we can find what we have already captured, across organizational “silos”, when we need it.

Third, intelligence helps to figure out what it all means. This role itself has three aspects:  (a) what does it all add up to?; (b) what are the implications for our organization?; and (c) what is likely to develop in the future?  This involves a massive breaking down of all the unconnected “factoids” that come across, and putting them back together in a way that makes a coherent picture of the business environment now-and its likely picture in the future.  We’ll call this role “ANALYST“.

For the Analyst role, the benefits could include:

  • Integrate disparate data points into a unified picture of what is happening.
  • Develop the implications and “so whats” for our organization.
  • Describe trends and scenarios of likely future states.

Fourth, intelligence recommends what to do about the findings from the first three steps.  Intelligence creates value for the organization only to the extent to which it is used in making business decisions and taking actions.  Without that key part of the intelligence role, it is just more informational “noise” that can be overlooked and ignored.  We’ll call this role “ADVISOR“.

For the Advisor role, the benefits could include:

  • Develop feasible options for decision-makers to consider.
  • Apprise the decision team as to the pro’s and con’s of each option.

The principle of intelligence roles is based partly on a personal conversation between the author and Jan Herring.

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