Intelligence for business is the use of information to inform strategy. An organization’s strategy is the plan by which the organization is able to sustain its existence. As the age of the Industrial Revolution has given way to the age of the Information Revolution, many firms that relied on the old way of doing business have found that those old ways can no longer sustain them (see Blockbuster, Kodak, AOL, and Blackberry to name just a few) and they have subsequently lost their preeminence or even ceased to exist altogether. They failed to invest in intelligence, so their strategies were disposed to fail.
Most of the organizations I work with who have actually developed a strategic plan have a glaring flaw in their plan – they rely on “best practices” and benchmarking as their measures of success. The problem with this approach to strategy is that it marginalizes the differentiators that drive an organization’s sustained success. If all of you and all of your competitors are chasing best practices and industry benchmarks, then you will all deliver essentially the same thing. Building a strategic plan that differentiates your firm from others is the key to a successful strategic plan.
But how do you differentiate your firm from competitors? There are a several factors you can consider, such as your customers’ brand loyalty, your ability to access and bargain for inventory from suppliers, your relationship with providers of complimentary products, and your firm’s value chain. In order to position your firm to leverage these factors, you need to have intelligence around how your competitors fare in each.
An intelligence function within an organization should by forward-focused, risk conscious, and serve to reduce ambiguity for decision-makers. Intelligence analysts should be able to cull data from a variety of sources including competitor, industry, market, economic, and political that are then analyzed, synthesized, and distributed in a relevant and reliable manner to guide effective decision making. When done right, intelligence helps organizations to avoid blind spots and biases in strategic decision-making.