An employee stealing critical company information in a data exfiltration event—as a result of manipulative or cooperative approaches with external hostile actors—, causing high business impact and significant long-term losses. A former employee deliberately disseminating false, misleading, inaccurate or biased information about the company using a fake identity in social networks and social communication media, leading to costly damage to the organization’s reputation. Business units requiring assessment to measure provider and partner trustworthiness, as well as prospect creditworthiness before engaging in tenders and international competitions. The above are just a few of the scenarios where economic intelligence units within organizations can help to address and solve the problems that may arise. However, outsourcing may still be preferred in certain cases due to the high degree of specialization and expertise required.
The use of economic intelligence tools and solutions is frequently regarded as an indicator of the maturity reached by a particular economy. It also gives an idea of the evolution achieved by organizations in the corporate world.
Companies have always carried out economic intelligence activities either in a conscious or unconscious way. Nevertheless, it is only by systematizing these actions and implementing them in a professional and efficient manner that organizations can benefit from profits and returns on investments derived.
Companies are increasingly incorporating economic intelligence units to their organizational charts. In some cases, these can be found as autonomous divisions within a corporation, while in other cases they are organized as specialized teams with dedicated tasks within the security department.
Regardless of the organizational structure adopted, it is important to stress that these units need to have clear responsibilities and competencies as well as a distinct role. Economic intelligence units usually have limited resources at the beginning, but as time goes by they can increase their capabilities through specialization and training of staff and can also resort to purchasing or outsourcing the tools and services they need.
Once created, the first tasks to be performed by economic intelligence units are cost-effective and achieve a fast return on investment. These are mainly related to identifying and managing internal capabilities and knowledge in order to develop intelligence products demanded by the organization and, particularly, by decision makers at corporate, department or geographic levels.
Economic intelligence units need then to plan the activities that might be outsourced to external providers or supplied by public administration entities, depending on the requirements and the expected rate of return of each option. Besides, the many benefits from deploying a mix of public and private capabilities in a project should be borne in mind.
Economic intelligence units leverage internal capabilities existing within organizations and use them to address corporate intelligence needs. At the same time, external providers and public entities are sometimes engaged, respectively, to carry out specialized assignments or develop public-private collaborative resources.
By using internal, external and public-private resources, economic intelligence units focus on two approaches. The first allows organizations to address tactical problems and provide security in the broadest sense. The second improves company’s competitiveness anticipating needs and foreseeing risks and threats. These are the main contributions of economic intelligence units to corporate strategies.
Security and competitiveness are key factors to manage organizational uncertainty originated from both internal and external sources. Reducing uncertainty levels helps executive positions to improve business management and planning in the long (strategy), medium and short (tactics and operation) term. Consequently, intelligence can play a major role in the decision-making process.
Intelligence enhances business security and competitiveness, while assisting executive positions in the decision-making process and reducing the level of uncertainty around their activities. In the corporate world, intelligence provides a transversal, or integral, contribution to business, as security and competitiveness can be improved at any stage of the production chain as well as in any organizational department or unit.
In order to gain maximum profit of this transversal or integral contribution to the business, it is desirable for economic intelligence units to report directly to senior management (such as CEO, executive chairman, board of directors) and this is the case for most companies. This approach is also supported by the fact that many of the tasks, assignments and projects where economic intelligence units are involved are considered to be sensitive to organization’s business and reputation.