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Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

This is part of a series providing insights aimed at corporate strategists seeking competitive advantage through better and more accurate decision-making. The full series is available at our special section on Decision Intelligence.  Members are also invited to discuss this topic at the OODA Member Forum.

This post discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information.

The Importance of Standards in Analysis

Standards in corporate intelligence programs are critical to quality. Standards lead to professionalism of product, higher accuracy and more valuable product that will drive decisions.

But standards must be appropriately applied. Not all standards are relevant to all efforts. As you will see below, many standards that work in the US Intelligence Community are totally wrong for use in corporate America, and vice versa. The wrong standards can result in a waste of time and perhaps even a stifling of analysts that would be counterproductive. In the worse case, standards applied wrong could lead to the wrong conclusions and decisions that threaten corporate success.

This leads to rule number one on standards in intelligence: Do no harm!

Expectations From an Analytics Standards Program

Analytic standards apply to how information is sourced and scrutinized, some parts of how analysis is conducted, and how conclusions are reported. Here is our recommendations for goals for corporate intelligence analysis product standards:

  • The standards put in place in your organization should be of high enough fidelity to be used in training for the workforce and for stating requirements for external providers.
  • Standards should be clear and easy to capture in corporate policy and to teach to the workforce.
  • Standards in analysis should only be applied where experience shows they can add value and are needed, and even then should be applied with insights from experience.

With these goals in mind we present our list of analytic standards below.

The Core Corporate Analytic Standards

The list of standards below is based largely on standards in place in the US Intelligence Community, which has published the results of years of research into what works and what does not in a community-wide directive (ICD 203). Additional sources of the standards below are include the extensive experience of the OODA team in the needs of corporate analytic efforts.

Objective and Independent: Corporate intelligence processes should deliver product that is free from harmful bias or unwarranted guidance from anyone. Analysts should never be pressured to change assessments to serve an outcome that reality does not indicate is true. Analysis should be based on facts, judgements, or when, required, even assumptions or intuition. All this should be captured and qualified, but never should they be shifted based on something a boss or other wants changed. But here is a big difference in how this standard should be applied in government and in the corporate world: In government this independence is taken to such an extreme that intelligence analysts becomes too detached from reality and not coupled enough to decision-making. Intelligence is so detached from decisions that they usually do not provide any sort of net-assessment or input on the many things decision-makers might want to consider to shape the future. In government, intelligence usually informs policy, and almost never makes it. In corporate America, the best intelligence efforts drive strategy and does not shy away from making suggestions on the right course of action.

Timely: Analytic products must be produced, disseminated and made available in time to impact decisions. The perfect product delivered after a decision is made is worthless.

Based on all relevant sources: Analysts charged with examining a topic need to be empowered to use any data and information they need to drive their conclusion.

Provides insight into credibility of sources and data: This can include describing factors like the reputation of the provider of data.

Provides insight into methodologies used: The methodologies used to produce analysis should be succinctly expressed in the work product so consumers can use this as they evaluate their own belief on the quality of conclusions.

Express probabilities and uncertainties in standard ways: When analytical products must express likelihood or odds of an event or uncertainty it should be done in as repeatable way as possible. Your organization may want to tailor how these are done, but as a starting point, consider the way the intelligence community expects conclusions be discussed, as shown in the table below:




Always Distinguish Between Facts, Assumptions and Judgements: Analytic products need to distinguish between these so readers of the product are not misled. Assumptions are defined as suppositions used to frame or support an argument. Judgements are defined as conclusions based on underlying information, analysis and assumptions.

Incorporate Analysis of Alternatives: the analysis of alternatives is the systemic evaluation of differing hypothesis to explain events, explore near term outcomes and imagine possible futures to mitigate surprise and reduce risk. Analytic processes should identify and assess plausible alternative hypothesis. This is especially important when major judgements must deal with significant uncertainties or complexities or when the event being discussed could have a high impact.

Identify Indicators: When producing products which give assessments of future events or potential decisions, analysts should strive to provide insight into what might be seen that might indicate the event in question is coming to pass.

Demonstrate Customer Relevance and Address Implications: Whenever possible, analytic product should get to the “so what” of the analysis, in a language relevant to the decision-maker leveraging the analysis. Analysts should also, to the greatest extent possible, express “what’s next” for the situation, since this is almost always of relevance to customers.

Use clear and logical arguments: To the greatest extent possible, analytic products should present the main conclusions up front, but then provide the logic and facts and assumption supporting those judgements in a clear and logical way so consumers can dive deeper into an examination of why the judgement was made.

Explain change to or consistency of analytic judgements: When new data, new judgements or changing situations cause a change to analytic judgements they should be highlighted.


Concluding Thoughts

Analysis depends on the power of the human brain. The most important analytical tasks tap into mysterious unbounded processes like creativity and imagination and intuition. The importance of these impossible to regulate creative processes to analytic output means the approach to standards must be carefully done. The first step in doing this is to leverage the lessons learned from the intelligence community and interactions in corporate settings captured above.


Additional Resources:

A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence

Organizations in competitive environments should continually look for ways to gain advantage over their competitors. The ability of a business to learn and translate that learning into action, at speeds faster than others, is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. This fact of business life is why the model of success in Air to Air combat articulated by former Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, the Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) decision loop, is so relevant in business decision-making today.

In this business model, decisions are based on observations of dynamic situations tempered with business context to drive decisions and actions. These actions should change the situation meaning new observations and new decisions and actions will follow. This all underscores the need for a good corporate intelligence program. See: A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence

Optimizing Corporate Intelligence

This post dives into actionable recommendation on ways to optimize a corporate intelligence effort. It is based on a career serving large scale analytical efforts in the US Intelligence Community and in applying principles of intelligence in corporate America. See: Optimizing Corporate Intelligence

Mental Models For Leadership In The Modern Age

The study of mental models can improve your ability to make decisions and improve business outcomes. This post reviews the mental models we recommend all business and government decision makers master, especially those who must succeed in competitive environments. See: Mental Models for Leadership In The Modern Age

An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

Cognitive Bias and the errors in judgement they produce are seen in every aspect of human decision-making, including in the business world. Companies that have a better understanding of these cognitive biases can optimize decision making at all levels of the organization, leading to better performance in the market. Companies that ignore the impact these biases have on corporate decision-making put themselves at unnecessary risk. This post by OODA Co-Founder Bob Gourley provides personal insights into key biases as well as mitigation strategies you can put in place right now. See: An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age

We strongly encourage every company, large or small, to set aside dedicated time to focus on ways to improve your ability to understand the nature of the significantly changed risk environment we are all operating in today, and then assess how your organizational thinking should change. As an aid to assessing your corporate sensemaking abilities, this post summarizes OODA’s research and analysis into optimizing corporate intelligence for the modern age. See: OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age

Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

This post discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information. See: Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

In Business, Like In War, Data Is A Weapon

Broadly speaking, a weapon is anything that provides an advantage over an adversary. In this context, data is, and always has been, a weapon. This post, part of our Intelligent Enterprise series, focuses on how to take more proactive action in use of data as a weapon. See: Data is a Weapon

Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity

The best business leaders are good at spotting falsehoods. Some joke and say the have a “bullshit detector”, but that humorous description does not do service to the way great leaders detect falsehoods. Bullshit is easy to detect. You see it and smell it and if you step in it it is your own fault. In the modern world falsehoods are far more nuanced. Now more than ever, business and government leaders need to ensure their mental models for detecting falsehood are operating in peak condition. For more see: Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes Bob is the co-host of the popular podcast The OODAcast. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Find Bob on Defcon.Social