When it comes to intelligence work, it’s easy to conjure up James Bond-esque escapades and high-tech gadgets.
In reality, intelligence analysis and the ability to glean clues from big data sets is just as vital to businesses as it is to national security agencies.
The expertise of analysts to foresee upcoming threats and grasp new opportunities is key to the survival of any business in today's hyper competitive environment, explained intelligence and security issues specialist Alexandra Luce.
“The more competitive the industry, the more important business intelligence is going to be,” says Luce.
Luce is an instructor with the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) and teaches several courses in the intelligence analysis program, including advanced analytic techniques and competitive intelligence.
“The core principles associated with the intelligence analysis program are about gathering information and using that information to your advantage,” says Luce. “It’s really about making better decisions.”
The program was at the forefront of a new, upcoming field when it was launched in 2011 and the first of its kind in Canada. Now, it’s practically a requirement for businesses to survive in an ever increasingly competitive market.
Business intelligence is far more than just keeping an eye on competitors, Luce emphasized.
“If you are only being reactive to what your competitors are doing, you are always playing a catch up game.”
Instead, intelligence analysis should focus on the business landscape as a whole in order to gain a competitive edge.
“While you do want to be doing an analysis on your competitors, it is also extremely important to be looking more broadly at the industry and at the long term.”
Anything from changes in technology or government regulations can impact an industry. In a hyper-competitive market, being caught off guard can be a fatal blow.
“Analysts will help you explore trends and what it means for your business,” says Luce. “And then you are better able to prepare and take action on it before it becomes an emergency.”
From law enforcement to entrepreneurs
The intelligence analysis program at the JIBC takes about 18 months for students to complete and teaches a range of skills from where to look for information to how to write about data findings.
“It’s about thinking very critically and then being able to express your findings clearly and concisely,” Luce explains.
The first three courses in the five-course intelligence analysis program are common to all students: theories and applications, intelligence communications, and advanced analytical techniques.
Students then complete competitive intelligence and analyzing financial crimes courses or continue to the tactical criminal analysis specialization.
One of the aspects that makes the program particularly strong, Luce says, is the variety of students from different backgrounds who enrol.
In the same classroom, there will be students with experiences and interests in everything from law enforcement and national security to banking and business.
“Whenever you are talking about analysis, especially in teams, you want it to be as creative as possible and part of that comes from drawing in people who have different perspectives.”
Learning to analyse and find meaning in data is a skill set in itself but, above all, it’s about nurturing a critical mindset.
“The most surprising aspect is just how broadly these skills are applicable,” Luce says. “The program is about writing and analysing but it’s really about a way of thinking.”
That way of thinking can be key to an organization's ability to adapt and survive in an ever-changing, ever-competitive market.
Casey Solis graduated from the JIBC program a few years ago and now works in the growing intelligence analysis field.
She credits the skills she gained for helping her respond to the diverse clientele she serves as an investigation manager at Xpera Risk Mitigation & Investigation.
One day, she could be conducting due diligence prior to a client acquiring a company. Another day, she could be conducting risk assessments for a government agency.
“The foundation of the program is transferable to any industry,” she said. “Today, I’m using the skills I acquired at JIBC to assess situations, solve problems and identify solutions.”