Outsourcing executive intelligence gathering
When we think of intelligence gathering, we often overlook the intelligence needs of the executive wing.
We have had a number of clients for whom we prepared intelligence reports that we referred to as newsfeeds. Based on long experience, we have discovered that executives often need a quick but thorough overview of what is going on in their industry on a daily basis, based on open source news reports.
The key term here quick. In our experience, this translates to a maximum of twenty articles, although there have been rare occasions where there have been one or two more than that, and on January 2nd the number is generally rather lower. Remember that the goal is to get significant information, not every piece of information.
Oddly, preparing the newsfeed is unexpectedly time consuming, and can take anywhere from a half day to three quarters of a day. Actually, it would be more accurate to say a half night to three-quarters of a night. This is because you want the report to go out around 6 A.M., and you want it to be the morning’s news rather than last evening’s news.
For most industries there will be a handful of primary sources, and fifty to a hundred supplementary sources. What happens in practice is that you get half of the stories or more from the primary sources, then spend an unconscionable amount of time finding the rest.
Putting aside the location of the sources, and a certain gift for locating information, it is clear that putting together such a newsfeed could be done in-house, so why would someone farm this out?
First, the job is usually given to someone in either corporate communications or competitive intelligence, which, on the surface, seems logical. But there are two problems with this. The first problem is most departmental people work from 9ish to 5ish, which means that you might get a current evening newsfeed arriving on your desk just as you are ready to go home, but not in the morning. The second problem is that departmental people have other tasks in their job description which can’t be put off forever, and they tend to get yanked off the newsfeed to do those jobs.
Which means the newsfeed doesn’t get done. Because of this, most of the executive newsfeeds we have done have originally been delegated to corporate communications or competitive intelligence, who gladly pass it to us so that they can do their other work.
Now, it might seem that since the information that goes into these reports is all open source material, it will all be common knowledge. This is partly true, in fact, However, timing is everything, and the earlier intelligence is available, the higher the probability that it will move up the food chain from data to information to knowledge (and, hopefully, eventually, to wisdom). Most important, we would like to be able to make use of this data or information or knowledge as early as possible.
As an example, there are a lot of companies who make televisions, and there are a lot of consumers who buy televisions. The CRT market has become a commodity market with slim margins, but the large screen home market is a growing arena. And in a while high definition TV will finally be a reality.
Now think for a moment about SpatiaLight, [Nasdaq: HDTV, http://www.spatialight.com/], the Novato,California, company that designs and develops liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) microdisplays for large screen rear projection televisions sets. SpatiaLight has signed agreements with China’s largest electronics conglomerate, China’s fifth largest TV manufacturer, China’s largest producer of TV tubes, and China’s largest television exporter and fourth largest manufacturer to produce large screen high definition TV systems that we gather will sell, landed in the US, for around $3,500 for a 52 inch model.
Let’s look at this first from the consumer’s point of view. Imagine that you were one of the many people one sees, nose pressed against the store glass, looking at the big, fancy, expensive plasma screen TVs. And you really want one, but aren’t quite ready to shell out ten grand. I’m willing to bet that the anticipated arrival of a SpatiaLight driven machine make you sit back and think.
And if you were a TV manufacturer? While all the information on SpatiaLight is publicly available, I suspect the earlier you were aware of this technology the happier you would be. Putting aside the advance in technology, this device returns the OEM to a significant increase in profit margin, in what has become a low margin commodity industry! You might decide to ignore it, or you might decide to buy the light engine from them and individualize it for your product line (there is a lot of room for additional programming), or try to license the technology from them.
Alternatively, you might decide to throw a lot of money into LCoS research and see if you can overcome their two- to four-year lead (JVC, Hitachi, and others, are playing catch up). In certain places you might try to steal the technology. But whatever you decide, the earlier you have the information, the happier you are likely to be.
And if you were an investor this would have been the kind of thing you wanted to know about when it was trading at $1.50 a share, rather than later, when the public really became aware of it. Public information? Sure! But were you aware of it when you needed to be?
If you are a senior manager, and don’t get a daily newsfeed related to what you do, you should seriously consider having one produced.