In my personal opinion, there are several categories of information and intelligence that must be regularly updated in order to keep an organization well informed so that senior leaders can make plans to shift strategy in anticipation of changes. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when something will change, that will dramatically impact your organization, for better or for worse.
1. Business Intelligence - has become related to something more like an automated dashboard used to monitor a businesses bottom line. Necessary to keep track of a company's internal metrics, and maximize the bottom line. However, if not conducted correctly, misinformation can feed the company's real time dash board.
2. Market Intelligence - Keeping track of trends in your market or your niche, keeps you in touch with your customers, and also what your competitors customers needs and desires. We need to look at the macro and the micro levels in order to fully understand your company's position in the market, and if there is opportunity for growth or not. If there is opportunity, how to best take advantage before your competitor does. Knowing what the customer needs or desires, and how to get it to them and maintain a profit is the key. Understanding the market and sector in which you intend to concentrate your marketing, advertising and sales efforts is essential to turning leads into sales.
3. Geographic Intelligence - Understanding your business area of operations and business area of interest is essential. Every company must think globally today due to ever increasing volatility, and any company is potentially impacted by the ever increasing global interconnectivity. Geographic intelligence covers more than just your customers. It covers the geography of your area of operations and the impact of weather on that geography. It covers your suppliers, your supply lines and their routes. Being familiar with the potential impact of goods or services to your company by a disruption in your geographic supply lines, or situations within areas than influence sources of raw material that feed the main supplier of your subcomponents is essential. Dare I say, this is vital. Knowing the truth of the climate of the area of operations and the area of interest enables the anticipation of disruptions, and the planning of contingencies. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can really help a company understand the relevance of big data, or the big picture in order to make the best decisions possible. The use of GIS is only limited by the imagination of the user or the requester of information.
4. Cultural Intelligence - I have separated this into a separate category from Market Intelligence for the same reason that I separated Geographic Intelligence. You need to really understand the cultures and beliefs of the people your company is dealing with, and/or the cultures and beliefs of the countries that your supply lines run through, or cultures that are close enough to your supply lines or sources of raw materials to impact your company. These cultural differences can be drastic when going global, and can be the difference between success and failure for a company. Let us not forget the multitude of examples where major corporations paid multiple millions of dollars for advertising in another country, but did not consult or use a true translator that was familiar with the culture, with the end result being complete disasters from which some companies never recovered. You can't use an automatic translation service or pay for translation for something this big without consulting a true cultural expert or native speaker from the region.
5. Competitive Intelligence - Knowing who your competitor is and what they are doing. Putting a face or faces to the competition. This includes everything about their companies, their management, psychological profiles, are they aggressive or timid. What is the life cycle of their products? Do they have a discernible and predictable innovative pace? Where are there supply lines? Are there weaknesses or potential weaknesses to their main suppliers? From a military perspective, we utilize order of battle analysis in order to determine an enemy's strength's, weaknesses, and most likely and most dangerous courses of action. The same model can and should be applied to your competitors in order to truly understand their capabilities, and predict their viable courses of action.
6. Political Intelligence - Understanding political history, current politics and situations which may impact future politics, and therefore, possibly your business. Changes in politics can result in increased taxes or tariffs on products. These changes can happen with little or no warning, especially as political tensions rise. Understanding how business is conducted in a foreign county is of utmost importance. In some countries, corruption is rampant.
7. Information Intelligence - Simply stated, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of information capability in a nation in which you are conducting or plan to conduct business. For example, how do the people in a particular country get their information and how old is it? Is the information censored by the State in any way? Being able to discern truth from propaganda is a powerful tool. This can also bring a reality check to your marketing and advertising sections.
8. Military Intelligence - While understanding a military's capability and intent may seem like it is out of the realm of business, in my opinion, it is very important. The military is ultimately a nation's hammer, and normally used when political efforts fail. In many countries corruption extends to the military. Nothing is more indicative of a country's intent and pending actions than what they are doing with their military. Stay informed and stay alive.
9. Economic Intelligence - This one requires no explanation. Understanding the economic conditions, forecasts, capabilities and intentions of a country is absolutely key to determining if conducting business in a country is beneficial or not. Looking at both the micro and macro levels are important in order to predict the impact of conducting business in any country.
10. Operational or Regional Intelligence- Almost at the strategic level, but one step removed. Operational or regional intelligence is very important in understanding the potential benefits and risk to your business, especially if it is global. This are of intelligence analyzes regions, and as the name suggests, seeks to understand the cultural, political, information, military and economic realities that exist between countries that are neighbors or near neighbors. Are there trade pacts, embargo, or tariffs between countries of a region? What are the logistics lines of communication between countries and regions?
11. Strategic Intelligence - The big picture, the strategic forecasts, the crystal ball, the think tanks that sometimes get it right, and sometimes get it wrong. The bottom line is that we need to keep up with what the future predictions are at the strategic level, and plan accordingly in order to be in a position to maximize your company's opportunity and minimize its risks. Those with the competitive edge, look not just out two years, but 10 or more. How far out does your organization conduct intelligence operations and competitive intelligence operations? It can make the difference between a big win or a complete loss.
The bottom line is that for a company to be truly informed, it takes a full time effort by real intelligence professionals to ensure the organization has the most recent and relevant information and intelligence to ensure that it is fully informed, and can make informed decisions, as well as contingency plans in an ever increasingly volatile world. No matter if you conduct it internally, or outsource to another company, it is vitally important that you incorporate all facets of intelligence into your planning and decision making process.
Robert D. Jenkins