Failure’s Lesson: The CI function is “the brain of the organization” and a pathway to growth.
Aurora WDC kicked off the their annual Reconverge G2 symposium on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 with a lesson on failing: “Failure, the Best Teacher” led the stellar three-day lineup with a thought-provoking message on failure’s role in the learning process.
The conference mission this year focuses on “Values Disruption: How Intelligence Analysts Make Business Leaders More Teachable and Awaken Cultures of Humility.” Tuesday’s theme specifically is “Making Business Leaders Teachable.” Dan Brewer of Brewer Science shared the message that failure is an unavoidable—and critical—component in finding success.
Brewer shared a brief history of new business development at Brewer Science by describing the evolution of various business unit practices.
Business Unit One reflects the first phase of the company’s development in a Brewer Science focus on the transitioning of time until revenue, revenue, low revenue, and no revenue.
It was determined the ultimate business question in finding success is: “How to expand growth?”
Business Unit Two reflected a time of no revenue for Brewer.
Business Unit Three produced low revenue and was eventually spun out. It did bring revenue, but not necessarily growth.
In Business Unit Four, no revenue was found. Failure resulted.
Business Unit Five survived on internal and external funding, taking about 13 years to complete. Most companies would not allow 13 years of evolution to pass before something is accomplished, but this is a privilege of a private company. The unit eventually became profitable, but prior to that, executives realized they needed to change.
This internal approach was highly effective. Brewer changed their approach to create a corporate market intelligence organization.
Shortly after, this group kicked off Unit Six, and found a much shorter time to reach revenue: 3-4 years.
In terms of time to revenue, Business Unit 6 was shortest because of the implementation of a market intelligence function. Consequently, growth potential is much greater than for Unit One after having made such discovery.
The difference of strategies between Unit One and Unit Four:
Prior to 2014, each unit had its own function. Business Units One-Three each had marketing and technology strategists to determine within the scope of the existing product range how to grow and penetrate the market for each product group. Each unit involved 2-3 people.
From the corporate standpoint this was already a problem. It’s great that each unit is growing their product, but they are not focused on developing a market.
Units Two-Four did not attempt anything new but worked instead in the adjacent market spaces.
The corporate organization intellectual property group supported earlier units—this was yet another source of failure in its design.
Brewer Science created a corporate function under an intangible assets group. R&D and business units organizations tied together and included an intellectual property group. It created a new CI organization and marketing organization.
They felt initially people in each group could be “dumped’ into new groups, and realized nearly 100% staff turnover to reach today’s successes.
Organization structure is less about “where the boxes are laid out’ and more about how the company operates.
Diverse backgrounds of staff were important. The creative team needed technical and financial backgrounds as well as formal training in CI and marketing. Staff also has a wide range of perspectives to find new opportunities. “We need people with different approaches to things,” said Brewer.
The company does both primary and secondary intelligence; but there was recognition of need to include primary data.
There is also a separate sales organization that feeds into the other groups.
Primary intel comes form multiple sources. Teams need to speak with customers, go to shows, and talk with professors to find new opportunities—all within each team. Information comes from sales people, government contracting, and other networks within the organization.
Primary intelligence combined with their own secondary information creates triangulation
Failure resulted from single point of reference. Much money was wasted in projects that did not take the triangulation approach.
This diversity of perspectives is required.
Situational awareness is the center piece, says Brewer. At the end of the day, “I have to be able to know what the situation is that I’m in if I want to make a good accurate decision…”
Companies also need to know their own capabilities.
If these can be combined, “a pretty good roadmap can be crafted for the future of the company,” because they will have targeted objectives to deliver actionable information.
The focus is on continuous improvement, according to Brewer. Effective communication is essential.
“If I don’t communicate properly, it’s all a waste of effort,” and “I need to speak the language of the people I’m talking to.”
An important bit of advice is that people need to be good communicators. It is critical to success. If you can’t communicate to customers and the outside world, failure will result.
The scope of situational awareness at Brewer Science is global economic monitoring, industry intelligence, and company level intelligence—all leading to internal roadmap development.
Product areas focus on business environment monitoring, supplier industry intelligence, supplier/partner intelligence, business continuity examples, and product roadmaps, among others.
Connections of all pieces of product areas will create opportunity to grow, but it is a challenge to remain apprised of all these components.
The process to get there
Brewer began with manual entry of data and used no analytics. Each group had their own information they did not share—“that was helpful,” Brewer wryly observed.
By 2010, it was decided a media aggregator necessary to support funding activity. A small user base of people within the company was created whose purpose was to find “who was talking about us.” Analytics and a weekly report were implemented, but it was limited in scope and use. The process was never intended to be a market intelligence tool for the company.
By 2015, Brewer Science knew everyone needed a regular flow of information to understand what was going on. They started with an intelligence process they outsourced and collected broad news globally. Global intelligence is a key aspect to success, says Brewer. The company crafted a taxonomy of news by keywords, daily notifications, and created a centralized knowledge database.
This visibility was essential for the entire company.
A problem was that the initial platform they chose to do this had no growth potential.
After only a few years, they understood the platform was lacking, and so they found AWDC’s FirstLight.
Growth potential makes the difference for Brewer, and the company chose FirstLight because of the growth focus it allows.
The communication piece
Brewer developed their own tools to capture and communicate within business units to discover where opportunity lies. They created metrics to determine potential for success.
Each revenue opportunity is comprised of 10-15 factors for success, says Brewer. The sales department is a primary source for voice of customer information. Tracking change over time is also essential in monitoring trends—those are the things that influence factors for success.
Be aware that when projects show no change in six months, this is a red flag, says Brewer.
Brewer advised: “It is all about communication,” and he recommended a communication focus on prioritization for business units and opportunities.
Integration for corporate growth is challenging but is imperative in providing insights to business units. One can’t merely deliver a report on GPD for example, said Brewer. That is not beneficial. Rather, “you have to know the customer’s product roadmap, trademark activity, [and ask] what is the customer of the customer doing?”
Team members need to look at these disparate points to see what it means for the company.
The inherent challenge is “a lot of noise in the data,” Brewer said. The question is how to make usable information from all this?
The strategy Brewer Science incorporates is unique based on the company’s mission and objectives.
Materials enable systems in ways that traditional electronics cannot. They ask, “Is there a better way to build this?”
Brewer identifies need from a material design perspective. They know customer wants in a product and know to meet them they need to look at material design, sensor developments (helping to create the best design) and determine how this innovation is best integrated and deployed.
Brewer says the company doesn’t necessarily have all expertise required, but this is not detrimental because of the way the business operates.
When deficiencies are identified, Brewer organically grows new corporate capabilities.
Integration of functions is critical—Brewer builds capabilities themselves, thus innovating and adapting to market demands. Intelligence helps them identify what they need to know to grow capabilities.
What does deployment look like? The design of new materials is the start, but the company needs user interfaces, design, support and service, hardware, networks and software to deploy products.
Brewer is willing to step up to the challenge and designs internal capability to do that, but the intelligence community is important to help them to identify suppliers, competition, design, etc before they can build something to be deployed.
The intelligence group in the organization has a huge task to put all the required pieces together.
That’s the biggest challenge to build Brewer Science–they build things from scratch. Very few companies will embrace this sort of learning challenge.
They’ve implemented a corporate function for competitive positioning. It has had rapid impact with continuous improvement a focus at Brewer Science.
One of the “failure lessons” for Brewer is that implementation of a corporate function for competitive positioning has allowed the company to decrease time to revenue for business units going forward.
“We identify growth targets and required competencies,” said Brewer. “They assist during ongoing development and achievement, steering the company in its most effective direction.”
Results demonstrate that the CI function is “The brain of the organization” and a pathway to growth.
Brewer concluded his presentation with a group exercise to further demonstrate his points, sharing actual business situations Brewer confronted. After the groups focused on these challenges for about 20 minutes, Brewer brought the audience back together to compare each of their findings with the company’s experiences.