Washington, DC Sep. 27th, 2006 ---- Many top executives believe Competitive and Business Intelligence departments are just a huge filing system, staffed by legions of librarians. The same perception exists among many political leaders of the huge lumbering government bureaucracy of sixteen intelligence agencies. There is a lot of truth in that perception, especially if the only output is academic historical reports.
The output of any intelligence organization should be much more than a mirror on the past, and a inventory of the present. There needs to be actionable intelligence with predictions and scenarios for the future. Far too many of competitive intelligence outputs I have seen leave a lot to be desired and the desire not to make a mistake and look foolish clearly outweighs the desperate need for predictive conclusions. Executives need to know what the information means, what courses of action are available, and what are the scenarios and consequences of each course. Look upon it as being like the predicted paths of a hurricane, an expanding cone of probability.
Today we see the controversy of the leaked National Intelligence Estimate, with the amazing statement by John MacLaughlin, one of the former top CIA Librarians that Analysts will not make statements of probability if they think the reports will be made public. Fire their Asses and replace them with competent ones who will!! These CIA librarians have hidden behind the cloak of secrecy for far too long, with Intelligence Failure, after Intelligence Failure to their credit. It's about time they began getting peer review for their predictions and scenarios. Over 20,000 US Military personnel have been killed or injured because of their academic pipe dreams, often written to please the political appointees.
In industry the same mindset applies. It's safer and easier to build large databases and neat, catalogued document libraries than it is to stand up and justify your predictions to a hostile board. When the fertilizer hits the fan few look behind the neat shelves of reports for the culprits and the sales office bears the brunt of the repercussions.
The problem of course is that few Competitive Intelligence Managers have field experience in sales, global marketing, or GeoPolitical expertise. They have spent most of their lives achieving a string of academic bean counting skills, deemed essential to their bean counting peers. They are rarely asked to pitch their skills against a competitive media environment. By that I mean that every word you have read so far will be scrutinized by tens of thousands around the world, and they will either agree of blast my "Clear ignorance of the facts". Believe me if I say the sky is blue, critics around the world will debate every word. That is why media experts get their predictive skills, they have had their ass kicked every day and thanks to this tend to be facing the right way, and looking at the right point on the horizon. Readers, viewers and listeners make sure they are.
It would be a great service to US corporations if companies would sponsor a series of Wargames to pit teams against each other. The humiliation of a Fortune 100 company being knocked out by a small mom and pop operation in the first round would bring a well deserved post-game look at the department, and maybe save the corporation embarrassment in other areas.
We need to improve the skills of Predictive Intelligence and move away from the overwhelming reliance on just collecting historical data and libraries of historical reports. This is clearly shown in the many political intelligence feeds from the private intelligence companies springing up around the world. They tend to be digests of media reports from around the world, often focusing only on English reports, and some just from Google searches on English-speaking sites. They are present day newsrooms, and the product is what used to come out of traditional newsrooms before downsizing and Katie Couric.
The trend to replacing experienced feet on the ground with academically qualified young post-graduate newbies in smart City Center offices has resulted in isolation from reality. They only see the manipulated images on television news programs, and lack real world experience of the area, the people and the marketplace. People buy products, not computer programs. Armed with that knowledge they can examine a set of parameters and metrics, and give an informed analysis of how the markets and the buyers will react.
So let's start increasing the output of Predictive Intelligence, and weather the learning curve and the silly mistakes, until we have perfected the skills and get it right. By that time the competitive position of the United States will be well down the scale, and we can again work to being No.1.