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How to use Corporate Intelligence for profit assurance

During recessionary periods, corporate intelligence (CI) is the only business function to provide profit assurance

Given the importance of this objective, it is hardly surprising that the executive board makes the requests and receives the findings of intelligence activities. What is odd, however, is that the CI function is constrained by a “cloak-and-dagger” reputation.

The nature of intelligence suggests that responsibility for its collection, collation and dissemination must be entrusted to an independent business unit within a company and act as the “ears and eyes” of the organisation. This business unit must be free to provide critical information to a variety of user groups including Exco, marketing, sales, security and human resources.

Further, the business units must be approachable so all members within the organisation can act as its agents both in and out of the field. In this way, information does not become a commodity used to create personal empires or satisfy petty whims within the organisation. In essence, the CI department must be like a polished mirror: retaining nothing and reflecting everything.

The fundamental criterion necessary for the CI business unit to function effectively is the recognition of its need. Many companies are too concerned with the everyday activity of securing the bottom line to realise that they can operate smarter, as well as harder.

To be competitive, companies must implement radical changes to face new threats and exploit new opportunities. The workforce needs to be directed and focused so that corporate resources are concentrated towards winning more business.

This allocation of business energy, however, is a management decision. As such, there is a need for actionable and timely intelligence to enable Exco to make informed business decisions. military manuals advise that by properly directing an intelligence system, a successful commander can gain the information needed in a decision making process. Likewise, the corporate intelligence process entails a structured approach towards gathering accurate and timely information for the management function.

As the purpose of intelligence is to reduce the risk of failure when undertaking a certain course of action, military history provides us with a variety of lessons for the CI professional.

The Duke of Wellington used scouts to determine the enemy’s strength and disposition before engaging in battle: as a result, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo (1815). The Vietnamese investigated the faeces of American combat patrols to assess their number, morale, and logistical support before determining whether to fight or flee. NASA invested vast resources into sending 11 rockets around the Earth’s orbit before landing on the Moon. The ultimate success of these enterprises rested with one common denominator – intelligence about the risks.

The function of intelligence involves the process of collecting, collating and disseminating information. This process should not be a ‘shotgun’ approach, but rather specific and disciplined. As the seventeenth century Samurai Miyamoto Musashi observed: “So great is the commander’s understanding of the requirement to meet his goal, that his plan is as though it were a straight road mapped out on the ground”.

In order for the intelligence function to be understood, a definition of corporate intelligence is required. At Zero Foundation Africa, we define the intelligence function as a “window on the battlespace”, offering a view of the current, future and third party threats to your company. As such, it is the core of all commercial strategy decisions.

This analogy of intelligence to a window can be illustrated in a variety of ways. A closed window, for example, provides a static and two-dimensional view of the world outside. A richly curtained window, on the other hand, provides an altogether different view to the occupants of the room.

To be effective, the window on the battlespace must be wide open. Only then, can one hear the noises, sniff the aromas, taste the air, feel the pulse, and see the activity outside. The window might give a view onto a souk, bustling with Oriental mystique, or it might open onto a hypermarket with its ordered display of goods. Whatever the view, the changes on the scene can only be appreciated when the window is open. Such situational awareness is as important for personal protection, as it is for competitive business.

Given the global nature of business today, CI professionals need to be both proactive and reactive. Now is the time to source and secure information in a symbiotic relationship and thereby provide an intelligence report which satisfies your brief comprehensively.

This duality of the intelligence process requires professionals who have been through the academic grindstones. The ideal individual does not have to come from a military or police background; nor does s/he have to be an ace investigator. Rather, the ideal intelligence professional must be flexible both intellectually and culturally.

Increasingly, the basis of all corporate intelligence is research and analysis. At Zero Foundation Africa, we have knowledge and operational experience within all 55 African countries. Using such experience, you will benefit from understanding actual, rather than perceived, threats to your company in a range of environments – both hostile and benign.

Our success can be best illustrated by an understanding of the role played by OSS intelligence operatives during World War II. From a variety of published sources, these operatives sourced exact details of the North African train systems and were able to predict when and where Rommel’s forces would be deployed. Also, by studying casualty lists for German U-boats and land battles, OSS determined that the collapse of the Third Reich would occur because of a loss of manpower and not, as was widely assumed, in the area of food production. For the first time in modern warfare, intellectual “eggheads” could tell the military something which was of practical use.

Yet, the diversity of corporate intelligence requirements demands a variety of contact sources or information providers. Today, CI professionals must be able to communicate with their foreign contacts, as well as understand how and where to gather critical information. The skill for such intelligence gathering often lies in the ability to cultivate local contacts.

Zero Foundation Africa has an extensive and well placed network of contacts throughout the African continent. Whether you need to know if a potential business partner has secured contracts because of government influence; or, staff members in a prospective joint venture have bribed foreign officials for contracts, we are able to provide you with the necessary intelligence.

Every manager has a responsibility to the company’s shareholders to ensure profitable practices. CI activities are not only cost and time efficient, but enhance profitability. To ignore the benefits of CI because of prejudice or lack of understanding is like winking at a good looking woman in the dark. Given today’s networked and competitive business environment, knowledge means more than power. Actionable and timely intelligence means profits and sustainable business for the long term.