What is business intelligence?
Business Intelligence (BI) is the application of intelligence, research and analytical tools to meet business objectives. BI is not about shady operatives, tailing targets, bugging or rummaging through bins. Even where such activities are legal, they are costly, inefficient and unreliable. Nowadays there are much smarter and more targeted ways of obtaining information to support business decisions.
BI builds on information from two main sources. Open source intelligence uses mainstream media, social media, online resources, official records (corporate, legal, criminal), and databases to develop a comprehensive picture of a subject from publicly accessible material. Companies could do much of this in house, but not as effectively or efficiently as a trained investigator. Do they have the resources, the subscriptions to relevant databases, the craft and knowledge to be sure that all bases have been covered? We are talking here about much more than the first few pages of a Google search.
The second broad source of information is human source – discreet inquiries with individuals with privileged knowledge of the subject matter. Again, businesses can do some of this in-house, but may not have the time, the networks or the background to be sure of getting the right answers, integrating them with open source results and finally testing and triangulating them to ensure all findings are robust. Moreover, companies may not want to be seen asking questions about potential counter parties, competitors or whoever. Better to hire a specialist third party through whom inquiries can be conducted anonymously.
Where does BI play a role?
The most common situation is enhanced due diligence into counter parties – potential acquisitions, JV Partners, suppliers, new employees, investments – any third party situation where a more informed picture of the other side helps to reduce reputational, business, regulatory and legal risk. Who is the ultimate owner of an entity? What is their reputation and ethical profile? Is the information available to you comprehensive, accurate and true? These are all classic questions where enhanced due diligence can provide insight.
Companies entering new markets may need assistance understanding the political, regulatory or security dynamics. Who are the decision takers and gate keepers in their sector? Who are their competitors and how strong are their relationships? Other areas where properly gathered and deployed intelligence can play a role include strategic planning and investment decisions, security and asset protection, government relations and public affairs, countering activist shareholders, hostile acquisitions or in the context of litigations or disputes, where understanding the other side’s position and objectives, and assembling the best information possible to support your case can help to ensure the best outcome at the lowest cost.
Businesses need Business Intelligence
All businesses have a potential need for business intelligence at one time or another – whether to support Legal, Security, Risk or Government Affairs functions, or whether to inform high level strategy decisions at a senior executive level. There are many suppliers in the market; when choosing to engage one, price is clearly important, but you also want to be sure that the supplier has the experience and track record to deliver successfully on your needs and that they have robust legal and ethical frameworks in place. If they try to play the old corporate spookery mystique – best walk away.