Corporate Intelligence Manual: Part 1

CHARACTERISTIC – From time to time, we ask Cipher Brief experts with experience in both the public and private sectors to share their thoughts on security-related issues.

The DNA of Value Creation

Local corporate intelligence programs are no longer new. Companies large and small have invested in intelligence professionals, tools, data and third-party services to help management understand both opportunities and risks in the hope of finding a competitive advantage while limiting company exposure. But some corporate intelligence teams are struggling to realize their full value, and some corporate executives are struggling with how best to set goals and use intelligence (and their intelligence teams) to make strategic decisions. Material values ​​remain on the table, and some people do not even see that they are there.

There is no panacea for private sector intelligence leaders trying to solve this problem. It’s a campaign, part organic, part orchestrated, that requires mutual learning and enlightenment (that means not just your client, but yourself), a relentless commitment to craftsmanship and all your technical discipline, a relentless focus on business imperatives, and a hell of a lot of fuss.

So what does good look like?

It reflects one simple truth: “Intelligence” is a discipline, not a topic or a narrowly focused tool. Properly packaged, it will point to whatever matters most to the decision maker, regardless of the subject matter.

There is a simple formula for how, where and why it works in a corporate environment. Purpose + Placement + Process.

Target: A corporate executive needs strategic intelligence just like a high-ranking government politician. The plans and intentions of governments, individuals, companies and non-state actors, along with their assessed potential outcomes and impacts, significantly affect the financial, reputational and physical well-being of a company and its employees.

A successful intelligence program anticipates the needs of the company and its leaders, is not limited by the imagination to a limited extent, or only by tactical considerations. proactively and cyclically pointed to a wide range of business objectives, geopolitical risks and opportunities, and other strategic interests of the executive branch.. “Good” looks like a corporate leader is clearly identifying gaps in their knowledge on virtually any topic of strategic interest to the company, using full-cycle intelligence to help fill those gaps, and making smarter and faster decisions as a result.

Accommodation: The intellect must have a horizontal relationship with other auxiliary functions so that it can support direct, vertical relationships with company executives.

This is another place where programs do not reach maturity or become limited in their capabilities. Poor placement can create inevitably narrow opportunities for the corporate intelligence team, or create unintended devastating consequences. filters between Intel producer and Intel consumeror both.

For example, intelligence programs in most companies are linked to corporate security programs. This is a critical interdependence: successful security programs rely on threat assessment to manage risk, and security requirements are necessarily a large part of a company’s intelligence needs. But the lack of imagination of either the intelligence team or corporate leadership often results in the intelligence team being created as a subsidiary or subordinate function of the security organization, which, in turn, limits the scope of intelligence solely to security issues, the highest priority among them. which tend to be granular, which deal with immediate, pressing needs. This leaves no room or mandate for the team to take on broader activities or for the company to realize the full value of the team (the “Goal” described above).

The same can be said when the intelligence team, whether by corporate design or corporate protocol, is managed or filtered through other support functions (legal, compliance, government affairs, etc.). Either due to differences in purpose or a lack of understanding of nuances in methods or messages, these corporate filters disrupt the intelligence process and inadvertently limit the ability of corporate leaders to realize the full value of intelligence.


The Cipher Brief hosts private briefings featuring the world’s most experienced national and global security experts. Become a member today.


Process: A successful program is built around full cycle capabilities. I mean:

  1. Everything that the intelligence function does is determined either by explicit, individual requirements or by permanent strategic requirements. requirements of key decision makers in a company, nothing is produced for the sake of production, and “newsletters” and weekly/monthly “news roundups” are out of the question, unless specifically requested and for a specific purpose, how it will be used.
  • A collection capability that provides not only passive collection (i.e. monitoring, subscriptions, open source channels), but more importantly, active collection. This critical tool is often overlooked, and many programs miss the chance to be a unique “added value” for the company. Exclusively outsourcing active data collection to external firms without an internal mechanism to directly manage this collection or provide insights into the raw results of these firms creates additional risk, potential loss of relevance and understanding, and significant additional costs. But managed more directly, active collection provides unique and granular information in a way that can be monitored for both accuracy and validity, tailored to individual and real-time needs of internal decision makers, managed to conduct operations ethically, and can be evaluate against the company’s own internal context, strategy, risk appetite, plans and intentions.
  • Analytical Capabilities Backed by Professional and Experienced Craftsmanship and supported by the three-legged stool of good analysis: people, data, and tools. This is what most companies get right (although often applied in a restrictive way). A good team of intelligence analysts can use their deep technical knowledge to help leaders see beyond “impressionism,” challenge their assumptions, and make unbiased decisions backed by data and quality domain experience. And a local think tank can interpret external events through the eyes of its corporate executives better than any outside think tank because of the trust they have built with their client.
  • Distribution is purposeful and deliberateas well as feedback becomes the engine of the cycle. When all work is driven by real requirements, it follows that the result of this work is passed on to those who either a) need to do something with it, or b) need to advise others to do something with it. Widespread creates a shared feedback that creates shared requirements and shared reporting. You’ve become a cost center, which doesn’t end well for Intel programs.

Read part 2 of the corporate intelligence guide in The Cipher Brief.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.