Corporate Intelligence Manual: Part 2

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. you can read Part 1 of corporate intelligence in The Cipher Brief.

Business imperative

Intelligence is a discipline, but business is imperative. So we must act accordingly.

Building a thriving local corporate intelligence program depends on the foresight (or at least leniency) of a corporate executive. They must see value in intelligence. To see value, this information needs to be relevant, insightful, and actionable—meaning you are giving them something (or promising something) that will have a significant impact on the company’s financial or reputational needle.

But in order to be those three things, you must understand your company’s reason for being and how that translates into the needs and motivations of your internal customers, and relentlessly pursue what satisfies those needs and motivations.

  • Companies often have secondary motives for their business. Altruism, innovation, global citizenship. But the first obligation is always to shareholders. At the heart of every decision, every initiative is a business imperative. Deals must be made. The strategy needs to be developed. The information you produce, the advice you give, and the actions you take on behalf of your leaders MUST consider and reflect this core underlying motivation of your client. Your job is to use your intellect to build a roadmap, not just find obstacles, to a positive business outcome.
  • My mentor (cipher expert Paul Kolbe) always says:The best information goes to the best customers“. This obviously doesn’t mean that we keep the good stuff for the customers we like the most. This means that no matter how relevant, insightful and actionable your information is, it is meaningless to a customer who doesn’t know what to ask for or how to use it when they have it. The “good client” understands the intelligence cycle well enough to work with you to develop meaningful intelligence requirements that result in a knowledge product that they can use to make difficult decisions. A “good client” knows how to use your knowledge and how to link your distribution to feedback and new requirements. So how do we get good clients?
  • Your job is to make good customers. Our world is intuitive to us, but not to everyone. We need to show empathy to our clients, teach them what intelligence is and what is not, and show them how to play ball. It is a journey that often takes time to mature, developing positive working relationships, guiding the cycle, and demonstrating value. At the same time it also your job is to make yourself a good business person. Listen to your client. Understand how they assess risks and opportunities. Study the internal policies of the company. Speak their language, don’t force them to learn theirs. Above all, help them see you as compassionate listening and a potentially unique response to some of their concerns. And remember the business imperative.
  • “Good clients” outgrow “can/can’t?” intelligence matters, and “Should I/shouldn’t I” and “How am I?”. This is a turning point for your program: you have moved from tactics to strategic. You are no longer a tick, you are an adviser. Your discipline requires that you maintain a relationship with your buyer throughout the life of the deal and the life of the investment. This is the essence of intelligence cycle, and this naturally creates more complex requirements with higher stakes of results. But even mature intelligence programs cut deals at the last minute for a “last-check”. Intelligence is not a checkpoint. Take this as a wake-up call and an opportunity for growth.
  • Prioritize your efforts on the initiatives and customers that represent the greatest value or risk to the company. The intelligence resource is limited, expensive and sensitive. It should be used where it will provide the biggest blow to the dollar.
  • Dedicate yourself to what I call “internal business development.This means constantly chasing pockets of latent demand within the company. Brand yourself. Advertise yourself. Get your serve right, try it a few times, and then make it more correct. You are on the same journey as your growing “good clients”.
  • At the same time your value is only as good as your external network. You must have the mindset of an operative. The constant pursuit of new sources, new suppliers, new technical tools, new relationships. Reversing those that are outdated or no longer fit the purpose. And you have to make those relationships meaningful – trust creates transparency that reduces operational or ethical risk and gives you more trust in the raw data and more control over how it’s received.
  • It’s easy and lazy to look at intelligence teams simply as “domain experts”. It’s true: Intel professionals tend to be SMBs by issue or geography. But how then do executives differentiate your value proposition from all the other really smart “experts”? The real differentiating value comes when you can promote your team in the same way as “deep technical specialists.’ That is, it is not enough just to know something. It’s the rigor and discipline that comes with how you get to know this “stuff”, and the same discipline goes into what you do with that “stuff”. Your team has learned, practiced and perfected their craft to ensure not only professional and authoritative input, but impartial and technical evaluation. Own and promote your craft.
  • Corporate leaders need people who can think but also people who can do. The program cannot be solely focused on interpreting and contextualizing the company’s external environment. It should also help find creative solutions and help implement them. Intelligence professionals are ideal for this, and where appropriate, we must show leadership in this area. We see the world differently, and the perspectives we take for granted are not always obvious to others. Appreciate your uniqueness. This is your biggest added value. But…..
  • Leave your old badge at the old door. Your work experience at (select a three-letter agency) is cool, but it can be not only a crutch, but also an “account”. Outside the pub, corporate executives don’t care “how we used to do things.” You don’t work there anymore. You work here. They only care about how you going do something and how it will create opportunities or help the company manage risk. Failure to separate how we work (with a technical discipline that remains unchanged) from Why we work (a variable that rotates from the national security imperative to the business imperative) can affect your perception of risk and opportunity and reduce the value you bring to the table.
  • You are not an expert in most things, and very few corporate tasks are limited to your own experience. Build and strengthen relationships within the company. Economics experts, digital security experts, political risk peers, lawyers, and business developers all provide a unique perspective and offer significant value to your bottom line. You are likely to make more of an impact with dynamic messaging.
  • But keep your saint obligation to provide an independent opinion opportunities and risks for company management when appropriate. Corporate collaboration does not interfere with your professional ability to take a stand and communicate it respectfully, but directly to the decision makers who need to hear it. This is your profession and this is what you are paid for.

Read part 1 of corporate intelligence in The Cipher Brief

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