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The Journal of AGSI

Global Intelligence Networking:
Technological Opportunities and Human Challenges

David J. Skyrme

The following is a short synopsis of this article which appeared in The Journal of AGSI - The Association for Global Strategic Information (ISSN 0965 4380). Volume 4 - Issue 3, pp. 106-115 (November 1995). It is reproduced with permission of the publishers, Infonortics Limited. There is also a full text copy of this article and an appendix listing some business intelligence sources.


Introduction

For many years computers have proved to be valuable tools for intelligence gathering and processing. In the recent past we have witnessed the growing power of personal computers and the extending reach of networks, such that information from many sources can be rapidly delivered to people's desks. Now we are on the threshold of a further leap forward in capabilities, adding a new form of intelligence processing that I call global intelligence networking. This is the capability to access and process information from unknown sources around the world, combined with human interaction and collaboration on a scope and scale not previously achievable. Global intelligence networking is, I believe, likely to challenge many of our commonly held notions about the processes and management of business intelligence.

This article examines the foundations of global intelligence networking from technological, process and organisational perspectives and identifies the resultant opportunities and challenges. It starts by reviewing technology developments, including the capabilities and impacts of electronic networking, and in particular the Internet. It then explores how these can enhance intelligence processes. Frameworks and guidelines for integrating these intelligence processes are then proposed. Finally, the organisational challenges of embracing global intelligence networks in an effective way are discussed.

Relentless advance of technology

This section dicusses the ongoing price-performance improvement of 20-30% per year (more than any other major technology), the growth of networking and the Internet. The changing role of the computer and its impact is examined in terms of fucntions and usage.

More powerful information processing

Examples of developments in processing text-based information and databases are given, inlcudinginformation retrieval software, CD-ROMs, and 'intelligent software agents'. While such developments have made information much more accessible, it requires additional sophistication to overcome the accompanying the problems of information overload. This require greater attention to proper information management, (and information resources management) a topic of great importance, but outside the scope of this article.

Person-to-person Interaction

In retrospect, we can now see that the advent of electronic mail (email) was the start of a widespread move towards using electronic networks for more informal information exchange, rather than simply database or programme access. Computer networks are increasingly used to enrich human-to-human interaction, and as a result offers a new dimension for improving intelligence processes. Examples are given.

One long-evolving development, that epitomises many of these capabilities, is that of the Internet. Only in the last year or so has it become the subject of much attention from business, but its significant rate of commercial development means that it worthy of closer study by business strategists.

The Internet - A Network of Networks

The most widely used facility on the Internet is that of electronic mail. However, it has certain facilities that are also highly relevant to the business intelligence community. The Internet illustrates both the advantages and drawbacks of a highly informal and heavily connected world of information resources, that are dicussed in the full paper. The real significance of the Internet, though, is not so much its information capabilities, but the capabilities it offers to move beyond information to intelligence.

From Information to Intelligence

Intelligence has many definitions and interpretations. It requires the integration of various processes, including information refining as perfected by Trend Monitor, such that an organisation senses its environment and responds accordingly, behaving like a 'learning organisation'. A framework is offered as an aid to those responsible for intelligence gathering and management.

Importance of Networking

Studies of successful organisations and especially those good at innovation reveal the importance of strong human networking, especially externally, such as with customers, market influences, peers. Such organisations are also likely to have excellent intelligence systems exhibiting certain characteristics, inlcuding a strong external orientation, good sensing mechanisms and well developed networks.

An illustrative case

A case is described of the conducting of a very rapid market assessment, using a dispersed networked team using various computer assisted information and knowledge techniques mentioned earlier. The features illustrated by this example are the use of several modes of computing in an integrated way - information refining, information access, interaction between contributors, development and refinement of intelligence through computer enhanced human interaction.

Human Challenge

It is the capabilities of networks such as the Internet to link experts to each other that I believe will have a more profound impact on business intelligence than all of the sophisticated tools that seek and find information from the thousands of resources scattered around the world. Intelligence processes can be made more effective from the proper management and the enhancement of human interaction. Building these into a global intelligence network is therefore about shifting the focus of current practices in business intelligence.

Although sometimes derided today, in time, and with proper focus and serious intent, "surfers" of the Internet will become valued "intelligence seekers". The opportunities created by the many advances in information technology mentioned earlier in this article are too important not to integrate into business intelligence systems.

Conclusions

This article has identified how developments in information technology have helped both basic levels of information handling, and also the more complex processes of creating valued intelligence for decision making. In particular the use of electronic networking and the Internet have a major contribution to play in enhancing the essential human-to-human interactions necessary for effective intelligence gathering and interpretation.

Learning to use and exploit such capabilities is a key task that must be grasped by business intelligence professionals and their business colleagues alike.


The Appendix lists some business intelligence sources.

Author Profile - Dr. David J. Skyrme



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