At first glance, the world of professional intelligence analysis may seem a far cry from any other walk of life, and in a lot of ways it is! However, the core function of intelligence is much more applicable to everyday life than many people assume.
Intelligence follows set processes – first there must be a form of direction, a question that must be answered. Many questions are far too broad to be answered in a single effort and need to be taken apart and prioritised. This allows for the planning of the information collection while assigning resources to the analysis. Fundamentally, intelligence analysis is a process of answering questions.
Once the question is understood, collection follows. In the military domains, information may be collected by dedicated intelligence platforms. Increasingly, Publicly Available Information (PAI) is being used to provide additional capability and context, and some areas use such data exclusively to perform Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). There is a wealth of data available – the hard part is knowing what to look for, where and when to look, and having the skills to process it to answer the question(s). The overabundance of information can lead to information paralysis, which in turn leads to decision paralysis – an effect of having the decision maker being the one to sift through the data, always waiting to process more. Training analysts can minimise that paralysis by performing the exploitation of the data and providing a reasoned summary, often derived from multiple different sources of information.
Professional intelligence analysts are taught a variety of methods to analyse raw information and to assess it against critical intelligence requirements. Analysis is the act of processing and interpreting the data, while assessment is about adding the ‘so what’ value – what can happen next and why, what would be the effect of that and how and why is that relevant.
Professional intelligence analysts are taught a variety of methods to analyse raw information.
It may not seem immediately obvious how these seemingly bespoke skills can be applied in a wider context but intelligence analysis and assessment effectively comes down to a structured way of processing and applying thought to (sometimes vast) quantities of information, while articulating probabilities and uncertainties. Ultimately this is about supporting people to make decisions, and those are skills which can be applied in almost any walk of life. Military and government intelligence agencies are focused on defence questions, but regardless of the business area, rarely is any business not interested in what a competitor is doing, how the target audience is behaving or how a market is reacting or could react to a new product launch or other event. For example, is the port in country X functioning and at what capacity – that affects how much of a given resource is available and has a corresponding impact on market prices; how many unsold vehicles are being stored at location Y; how are people reacting to the new marketing campaign and is that reaction translating to sales? Is the mine at location Z operating and how much material is being extracted? All of these are questions where intelligence processes can be applied to generate a thorough analysis.
Such methods include analysis of competing hypotheses, which enable analysts to assess multiple hypotheses against evidence-based criteria, and SWOT analysis – looking at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a given event or actor. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis is commonly used as a self-reflection tool – in the intelligence domain, it is typically applied to an adversary. Other methods include subjective bias analysis - being able to understand and account for one’s own biases, which may be conscious or subconscious, and deception detection – working out fact from fiction by applying a critical mindset. There are other methods, each designed to enable the analyst to structure their thoughts and generate realistic reasoning and future courses of action. This level of critical thought and analysis provides the means to look beyond the surface level information – to dig deeper and derive meaningful content and contextualise the results. Examples might include situations like fraud detection, investigation and prevention or a detailed assessment of a company’s marketing campaigns and sales figures over a given period of time to predict future campaigns. They can also be applied in a counter-intelligence role – what could your competitor work out about you and your actions from PAI and OSINT?
Businesses can learn a huge amount about their marketplace, and their competitors, based on data from open source intelligence.
So how can businesses learn critical analysis skills, and find out how to apply those skills to increase their chances of success in new or existing marketplaces? Well that is where we can help you. Our Critical Thinking for Intelligence course provides training in structured thinking and assessment, while more specialised analytical skills can be gained from courses such as our Applied Intelligence, Imagery Intelligence and Motion Imagery, Open Source Intelligence and Electronic Warfare for Intelligence training courses, depending on the data types being processed.
A trained analyst provides much more value than merely reporting what they see – it is about the predictive assessments which provide insight, foresight and understanding to the decision maker. Police and security forces may seem like obvious candidates to benefit from theses intelligence processes (and they are), but the applicability is limited only by the questions being asked. If you have a question about any aspect of your business area, answering that question relies on collecting information, having that information analysed to generate an assessment and receiving that assessment to enable effective decision making; and these are all skills which can be acquired on one of our courses, taught by experienced intelligence analysts.
Our team are here to help. If you have any questions, no matter how big or small, please get in touch.