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Shifting Organizational Priorities for Analysts and Analysis

  • “The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many things of greater value.”
  • —Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher

We know there has been a fundamental shift in the nature and sequence of organizational priorities for analysts. Though change is not uniform across sectors, deciphering the outline of a transformation toward improved analytical capabilities is possible through the following principles.

Adding Value to Intelligence: A priority for analysts is to deliver a product that adds context and meaning to raw data and information. In today’s information-overloaded environment, intelligence competes for the attention of the decision maker. John Gannon, former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, commented, “It is our challenging but rewarding job to keep telling these smart but overworked folks, decision or policy makers, what’s happening in a complicated world.” Keeping ahead of the competition and keeping the attention of intelligence users cannot be taken for granted. Some commentators consider that the insufficient and poor training of analysts has been a primary reason for the low effectiveness of intelligence programs.20

One of the ways to stay relevant is to build and maintain subject matter expertise, continuity, and depth within the organization’s analytical ranks. Information alone will not be useful to the consumer if it is not interpreted correctly and presented in a credible way by a recognized expert. This issue has been addressed in some organizations through the creation of a senior-level council that is responsible for strategic planning and addresses the areas of CI recruitment, assignments, core skills, standards, and training. Others have relied upon the continuous delivery of learning opportunities, through apprenticeships, traditional classroom, and virtual means, by which analysts can upgrade their capabilities. Finally, some organizations have outsourced to specialist companies that they believe can provide the needed services better than internal resources. The variety of ways that best practice CI organizations have attempted to address this need has been catalogued in several studies.21

Answering Questions in Real Time: Analysts have traditionally met intelligence needs through regular briefings and overviews, usually tailored to the client’s needs. These deliveries can also be supplemented with personalized digital, instant messages or memos that respond to incidental or supplementary questions. Using highly developed specialized software and solutions, analysts may provide daily or, when a crisis erupts, minute-by-minute support. While the vast majority of an organization’s analytical tasks will be carried out in response to specific questions, over the course of a typical year, an analyst or analytical team will provide hundreds of ad-hoc briefings on virtually every aspect of the enterprise, thousands if one factors in the insights delivered by today’s information solutions.22

Concentrating Resources: Analysts must be vigilant about prioritization, and they are expected to use all the latest technology to stay ahead of the competition without wasting scarce resources. Consequently, a need exists to continually press for clarification of a critical intelligence need. Organizations have to find innovative ways to build in flexibility within their collection and analysis efforts so that new priorities can be addressed on an as-needed basis. This flexibility is seldom considered when devising a competitive analysis or intelligence system, but has become increasingly important in a resource-constrained context.

Forging Partnerships: Another priority is how the organization, its data collectors, and analysts relate with the broader community. Partnership is a concept that has taken hold as organizations seek to take advantage of others’ specialized expertise and resources. Co-operative efforts between CI and other departments have built formal and informal networks of functional and subject experts throughout the organization. Rarely does all the expertise on any particular issue reside in one part of an organization or a single unit. Tapping into analytic expertise across the firm is important to overcome commonly experienced budget and personnel constraints.

Looking Over the Horizon: The focus on decision-tailored support helps make analysis more relevant and useful to the client. It also ensures that intelligence resources are going where they need to be. Providing such high-level support makes an enormous claim on resources, particularly staffing and time. At worst, analysts risk becoming prisoners of their inboxes and unable to put daily events in a broader context—which is essential if they are to provide timely warning of emerging opportunities or threats. The challenge is to step back and consider what the organization might face tomorrow, next week, or next year. Analysts have to look beyond the immediate and the obvious, toward those forces that might be moving slowly but inexorably toward their organization. Giving decision makers a sense of the possible, rather than the probable, must be a key priority for analysts, and it is precisely this that sets them apart from others in the organization.

Providing Timely Support: Analysis is most relevant when it is provided directly to the decision maker. Analysts are at their best when deployed on-site and in regular contact with the organization’s managers, negotiating teams, and front-line decision makers. This ensures a better understanding of shifting agendas, prime movers, and quick feedback on their outputs. This all helps to better target the intelligence effort. As mentioned already in this section, time is a luxury that few decision makers enjoy, so anything that puts the analyst closer to the problem can only speed up the solution identification process.

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