Monday, October 22, 2007

Military Intelligence – A Template for Effective Competitive Intelligence

More than 95% of U.S. based businesses indicate that they have dedicated some amount of resources to the gathering of intelligence. This may include market, sales or competitive intelligence, but the goal is usually the same: be better at business than the next guy.

But, few companies would rate themselves as being very effective with the intelligence. And, the funny thing is the discrepancy of the perception between those that gather the intelligence and those that would use it. Executives usually rate themselves as “somewhat effective” or “very effective” as using intelligence while the intelligence professionals generally rate the executives as “not very effective.” Hmmmm. Why so many axes to grind?

Every organization should examine and reexamine its practices to create a continual improvement process. During this process, I would recommend that each organization take a little time to review other organizations that make intelligence a priority.

Now, it would be difficult to peek into other businesses and discover their secrets. You wouldn’t open your doors to this kind of review. Why would anyone else?

But, you can look at an institution that, overall, leads the world in the gathering, analysis and use of intelligence – The military. In fact, you can make the case that the military has the longest running and most successful intelligence system in history. (We won’t talk about policy makers and their use or misuse of intelligence. That’s another story for another day…

Where else are the stakes higher than on the battlefield? In a situation where lives and equipment are constantly at risk, we can learn some very critical things about how the military values its “competitive intelligence”, from gathering through strategic use.

“Most militaries maintain a military intelligence corps with specialized intelligence units for collecting information in specific ways. Militaries also typically have intelligence staff personnel at each echelon down to battalion level. Intelligence officers and enlisted soldiers assigned to military intelligence may be selected for their analytical abilities or scores on intelligence tests. They usually receive formal training in these disciplines.

“Critical vulnerabilities are…indexed in a way that makes them easily available to advisors and line intelligence personnel who package this information for policy-makers and war-fighters. Vulnerabilities are usually indexed by the nation and military unit, with a list of possible attack methods.”

“Critical threats are usually maintained in a prioritized file, with important enemy capabilities analyzed on a schedule set by an estimate of the enemy's preparation time. For example, nuclear threats between the USSR and the US were analyzed in real time by continuously on-duty staffs. In contrast, analysis of tank or army deployments are usually triggered by accumulations of fuel and munitions, which are monitored on slower, every-few-days cycles. In some cases, automated analysis is performed in real time on automated data traffic.”

“Packaging threats and vulnerabilities for decision makers is a crucial part of military intelligence. A good intelligence officer will stay very close to the policy-maker or war fighter, to anticipate their information requirements, and tailor the information needed. A good intelligence officer will ask a fairly large number of questions in order to help anticipate needs, perhaps even to the point of annoying the principal. For an important policy-maker, the intelligence officer will have a staff to which research projects can be assigned.”

Developing a plan of attack is not the responsibility of intelligence, though it helps an analyst to know the capabilities of common types of military units. Generally, policy-makers are presented with a list of threats, and opportunities. They approve some basic action, and then professional military personnel plan the detailed act and carry it out. Once hostilities begin, target selection often moves into the upper end of the military chain of command. Once ready stocks of weapons and fuel are depleted, logistic concerns are often exported to civilian policy-makers.” (
The points that catch my attention are:

  1. Intelligence professionals are present at each level of the military
  2. They receive formal training in intelligence practices
  3. Good intelligence officers stay very close to the policy-maker or war-fighter
  4. Good intelligence officers ask lots of questions to make sure that the intelligence program is on the right track and can anticipate the leaders’ needs
  5. Good intelligence officers package the intelligence in ways that the users can easily consume while still getting the intended “nutritional value”
  6. While competitive intelligence personnel are not responsible for policy, direction or decisions, they should try to understand how these decisions are made. This will provide a deeper context to make future intelligence efforts more valuable.

In the next post, we’ll look at the usual structure of intelligence in today’s business.

And, if you have any thoughts, leave me a comment. I dare you.


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