By Dr. Ben Gilad, ACI Faculty

Do you remember the days when white collar workers were labeled “paper pushers”?

We’ve come a long way baby from that thanks to Peter Drucker’s “Knowledge Workers” revolution. But in some respect, we haven’t. In my view, many of the intelligence practitioners out there are just “information pushers.” Sounds a little better than paper pushers but the difference is semantic, not real. And the problem is mistakenly considered structural.

Structure? No. People.

My thinking on the optimal organizational structure for the (competitive) intelligence process in a typical corporate environment has evolved over the years since I co-authored the first book on how to formally organize the intelligence process (The Business Intelligence System, AMACOM, 1988). If I were a politician – brrrr, sorry, instinctive shudder-  the opposition would have labeled me flip-flopper. On the other hand, if you don’t learn from experience and you can never change and adapt your thinking, what value do you bring to your clients?

My old assumption in 1988 was that the CI director should be reporting directly to the CEO. This thinking was derived from my years of collaboration with Jan Herring, with whom I founded the original training affiliate of the Academy of Competitive Intelligence (today the FGH-Academy of Competitive Intelligence). Jan created the nation’s first CI function at Motorola and was recruited by and reported directly to Robert Galvin, then Motorola’s CEO. Galvin was a keynote speaker in one of the first CI conferences I organized when I was at Rutgers University. He was a consummate consumer of intelligence, especially on international competitors.  

That was also the flaw in the model. The focus of the main user on competitors and the close relationship between Herring and Galvin seemed like a winning formula. Alas, while Jan was an exceedingly influential person in Motorola and then the CI community, few were able to emulate his wisdom and success. Over time, CI units were pushed lower and lower in the corporate structures as few CEOs appreciated the focus on competitors as much as Galvin did.

The “champion” illusion

So my first “flip” has been to recommend finding a good home, not an independent existence. I hypothesized that a senior “champion” will protect the young CI function. In the 1990s, Marketing functions became the preferred corporate champion. Alas, marketing turned CI into tactical information archiving and distribution, or, to put it less diplomatically, human search engines with little real value. Therefore, when cost cuts cycles happened, no one actually protected “my people” (I know I sound like Moses talking to the Pharaoh, but I am Jewish so what do you expect?)

So we expanded the scope of our certified professionals. Instead of a focus on competitors – a limiting factor which is OK for tactically oriented information practitioners/archivists – we trained them to be the experts on analyzing and assessing any High Impact Player (HIP) in the competitive arena. HIPs include customers, regulators, suppliers, and most relevant today, disruptors. That expansion of training has brought our bright CIP™s to such functions as Strategy or Business Development which is a far superior place to being stuck in marketing. Alas, in large corporations there is still a sorry disconnect between the analyst and the decision makers. The impact of intelligence is often muted via layers of redirecting of the intelligence “noise filters”, and the value of a fully convergence perspective is diffused over many “management questions.”

Here is the real change driver

I’ve been watching CI functions come and go, but these days based on the unprecedented number of in-house programs the Academy is asked to do – they seem to be making a comeback in a different form. Watching the new generation of CI popping up everywhere, I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter where you put the function, but what matters most is how CI is used. That’s a whole different paradigm, shifting focus forcefully away from intelligence production.

So while the mainstream conferences and vendors still push the old production model as if the world hasn’t changed, we have been shifting our CIP™s to a different mode of operation. You can place a bright analyst behind the cafeteria as far as I am concerned, and starve her or him of resources, and they can still shine. The issue then becomes a battle to keep them from making the same mistakes as CI of yore: don’t build an empire and measure some fictional ROI; focus on continually increasing impact instead and learn how that is assessed. Don’t play politics but build coalitions, not one-way service network. That’s our focus now; we have the data to back it up, and it seems to be working as Quentin Smith said in an out-of-the-blue message he sent me on Linkedin:

 “Ben, the training, education, and discussions I’ve had with you dramatically improved my ability to facilitate and influence our C-suite as we developed, tested, and adapted our strategy. Thanks to you I am able to effectively detect undisclosed assumptions, and challenge and redirect discussions with authority.“ Q.

It’s the most rewarding experience to finally find something that works dramatically. Mind you, Quentin has 35 plus years career with his company, and his title is Adaptive Planning Director. So if he says dramatically, I am buying it.

Thanks, @Quentin Smith.  You made not only my day but validated my revised assumption of how the CIP™ program should prepare managers and professionals for a real career.

Come train with us in February in Charlotte and then join us in the only event that marries intelligence and strategy for true impact (, March 26-28 in San Francisco).  The double punch will cement your transformation in this brave new world.

Remember: No more information pusher.