By Alan J Simpson
There are almost as many definitions of Corporate Intelligence, it's scope and role in the company, as there are CI Managers. The definition often follows the aspirations, or comfort zones of those tasked with creating the Corporate Intelligence Department.
Those with a sales background lean towards competitive intelligence, bean counters lean towards business intelligence and data mining earlier transactions, to squeeze out every drop of customer blood.
So what is Corporate Intelligence and how does it interlock with other kinds of intelligence gathering. The scope ranges from tracking corporations in the field, to the overall umbrella of intelligence guiding the strategy of the corporate entity.
I prefer the latter, for not only does a Board of Directors need to know about their own customers, products and competitors, they need to fully understand the political, and legislative environment in which they operate. Political Intelligence is an important factor, as is economic intelligence in the overall definition of the broad intelligence scenario.
Political Intelligence stretches from the United Nations, down to the local council, and the many lobbying groups that influence decisions for and against the interests of the corporation.
Many a huge project has been derailed because of a local interest group objecting. The same goes with corporations requiring a global supply chain, or the need to sell their goods and services worldwide. The great plans made in splendid isolation have evaporated in the fog of war, or in sanctions.
Major industries who require a long lead time with regulated products need to keep a key eye on the personalities who can effect their future plans, directly or indirectly. They also need to identify and cultivate all those political personalities, especially behind the scenes, who can help, or hinder their plans.This can't be rationalized as being Competitive Intelligence, for it affects the fundamental ground rules of doing business, with or without competition. In fact the scenario may be made worse if the competition has the politicians ear and has an input into drafting rules, or legislation.
Competitive intelligence in many corporations is simply watching the products and sales initiatives of competitors in the marketplace.
Business Intelligence is often just scouring data to find missed opportunities. It is very like sifting through the huge piles of waste materials in old mining operations looking for flecks of missed minerals. A good example are the huge yellow mountains of waste outside South African Gold mines. New screening technologies extract the last minute sliver of gold.
Whilst these are important they are adrift in a sea of uncertainty unless they are placed in a wider scenario.
The policy of politicians in power to many environmental issues can have a devastating effect on the ability of a company to manufacture a product, and the tariffs imposed on one region, or country can turn a good contract into a liability. These factors will not be found by the competitive process, or from data mining. They probably can't be identified by scouring the Internet, or subscribing to news clipping services. The corporation needs to react before the news is made public.
Competitive Intelligence should identify that something is not quite right, when close tracking of similar projects by competitors signals a problem. That of course assumes that the competitors have their fingers on the button, and have a fine grasp of external events.
Often than not the institutionalization of intelligence threatens the ability of corporate intelligence departments to think outside of the box. The same condition threatens the government's intelligence functions, leading to regular highly visible Intelligence Failures.From my early days I understand how difficult it is to work as a neutral advisory department, for the full forces of corporate culture, and compliance are unleashed on the corporate intelligence department. The number of times I have been accused of not being a team player when my advice did not fit into the mould already created by marketing, sales and R&D. That company went out of business shortly after I left. They would not listen to anyone outside their young marketing and image group who believed that anything is possible, anywhere in the world.
From this project in the early 1980's I realized the need for a higher level of input, to protect the corporation, and their global operating environment, individual projects being at a subordinate level.
Today, especially in US industry, I see decision makers with their MBA's who haven't a clue about the real world. They use all the buzzwords and focus intelligence gathering to prove their case. They are project, or task driven, and usually are workaholics behind their computers, or on endless conference calls and meetings within the group.
They miss the obvious, or factors they can't comprehend through lack of worldly exposure to how the world operates.
The world is getting a more dirty and dangerous place, and vested interests often overtake logic and the public good. In addition buying is an emotive decision and emotions are currently running very high around the world. Be aware.
Above all let Corporate Intelligence be the overall umbrella to advise on global, national and local environments, political and legislative atmospheres, and competitive forces that influence the marketplace, and the sales of the companies products or services.
It takes time and money to build up a world class intelligence department and above all the leaders need to be on par with the best in national intelligence agencies, as to their experience of the global environment. Don't get bitten by the unknown external threat.