“By sharing we can be smarter.”

Zena Applebaum, Director of Competitive Intelligence, Bennett Jones, LLP, took the stage at the RECONVERGE G:2 conference on Wednesday morning in a compelling, interactive presentation on the merits of an embedded intelligence function.

Applebaum began her discussion with a summation of her career expectations—the understanding that getting buy-in and trust of those you work with is key. Further, our vision of CI is changing. CI is not an elitist discipline, you need not go to school to learn it, you need not have a certification. Rather, it is a series of competencies anyone can be taught.

“You don’t need to have an exclusive ear of management,” she says. Rather, embed the rubric of CI–embed the ideas of it throughout the organization. Be aware of the organization and how you can make it more competitive—“CI is everyone’s responsibility,” Applebaum said.

We are always consuming information and producing information—the production of content is a constant process. We do not consider how this onslaught impacts our consumption of information, however.

We pay attention to the issues that matter to us, we do not pay attention generally. “Nobody likes to eat alone,” says Applebaum.

And nobody should do CI alone either.

The volume of content continues to grow at a staggering rate. We need to know the right data to collect, the question is–how to make sense of it given the vast quantity available?

An information diet says “There is no such animal as information overload, there is only filter failure,” says Applebaum, quoting Clay Shirky.

CI practitioners take all the “food” (information) available and “serve it up” in a fine presentation at the company table. Should CI practitioners work in silos, failure will prevail.

The way we share our information is subject to reinvention, Applebaum notes. The “80/20” rule should be considered—we are not finding the people to come to the table and bring the right information to us. CI pros need to encourage others to participate in information exchange.

Sophistication needs to be applied to the amount of information we consume. Avoid total immersion in information, Applebaum suggests, as we are unable to process everything. We need to change our habits of information consumption, and be more conscious of what we consume. CI is a living, breathing ecosystem within our organizations.

Intelligence as an ecosystem is the reinvention focus of Applebaum’s presentation.

Is CI a “squishy thing”? The CI function is one that “doesn’t have a home” within companies, and this doesn’t ultimately matter. It is something that should exist throughout the organization. It is a fluid discipline in which CI practitioners make sense of all information available; but we need contributions from all areas of the organization.

If you teach everyone to look for the signals of CI, not the noise, it will help others better understand the CI-related contributions they can make to the firm. For instance, HR staff may interview candidates and inquire about what was important to them in a previous role.

All staff needs to be aware that they each “add seasoning” to the CI function within the organization. “Embedded CI is shared CI,” notes Applebaum.

Do staffers know their competitors? Do they know the organization’s mission?

Here are some how-to’s:

  • Encouraging intel sharing culture takes time but it accounts for biases and increases accountability
  • Creating and embedding subject experts by product line, business line, or geography makes gathering and vetting easier
  • Allowing more cooks in the kitchen allows for new ways of thinking and approaching an issue, and analyzing data
  • Embedded or shared CI allows for more inputs and better insights

To find success:

  • Know that less can be more; don’t do a newsletter if you have no insights
  • Be purposeful in what you share and create a collaborative culture
  • Include HUMINT in everything you do to increase perspectives
  • Find ways to produce value—increase analytical fitness with curation
  • “Sharpen knife skills” across the team—communication, elicitation, presentations
  • Information is quick—intelligence takes time

Diet+Fitness+Accountability=CI success, says Applebaum. “By sharing, we can be smarter.”