An Executive Intelligence protocol: (part II)
Caroline Dawe and Sue Wright
The Information Cycle looks at the progress of information as it is defined, identified and used by the Executive Intelligence (EI) function and its progress from words and figures through to data, Intel and ‘results’ that can be interpreted and used by management in an organisation.
(The definition of specific intelligence objectives as described within the IRS)
Specifying the objectives, in detail, up front, is something that many managers can find extremely time consuming and even irritating, as it involves a level of detail that can drive some people to distraction. However, it is key to getting the entire intelligence process working well. Time spent creating an IRS that tells the intelligence function exactly what is required, is time well spent.
(The design of a scheduled and automated intelligence process capable of satisfying the requirement set out within the IRS)
The intelligence function now takes over the process to define what information needs to be identified, captured and processed. As stated earlier there may well be tradeoffs required here in terms of the cost and availability of the data etc., so there may be discussions required between the intelligence function and the initiating manager(s) until a compromise is reached. Once reached, the outcome(s) should be fully documented to prevent disagreements at a later stage.
Before implementing the process, it will need to be piloted with test data, to ensure that everything works as intended throughout the process. Testing will have been done by the intelligence function to get the data to this stage, but managers will want to know that the data they receive is in the format they want, tells them what they want to know etc. As before, there may need to be several iterations of this process before the data is absolutely to the management’s satisfaction. The final sign off of the pilot marks the point at which the system is ready to go live.
(The implementation of the above process)
Having signed off the pilot, the intelligence function can go ahead with full implementation, which will involve the purchase, capture and automated processing of live information, to provide a data set that will produce what has been requested from management. Up to this point everything has been planned and trialled, but this is where the robustness and the detail of the implementation will be tested.
“Very small and seemingly insignificant issues can very soon grow into a major problem that needs to be resolved.”
Both parties will be confident that implementation will run smoothly, but there is always a need to have a contingency plan if there are unforeseen problems. Very small and seemingly insignificant issues can very soon grow into a major problem that needs to be resolved.
Management reviews of progress at this stage should be regular, frequent and done in detail, so that the minor issues are sorted out quickly and don’t have the chance to develop into something much more major and usually very expensive!
4 Quality Assurance
(The quality assurance programme supporting the above process)
Once the intelligence is being produced, periodic but regular checks need to be made to ensure that it is still correct and the automation delivers it in the correct format to the correct people at the correct time. The appropriate intervals and key aspects of the data to be checked can be agreed with the management at the IRS stage, or it can be achieved internally in the intelligence function.
A periodic check can be made with managers using the intelligence, to ensure that nothing has changed, nor is about to change with their requirements, that would have a bearing on the current or future process.
(The appropriate delivery mechanism)
In large organisations managers may move roles or may leave the company, so checking that the distribution list for the intelligence is accurate and up to date should be done regularly. Intelligence, if it got into the wrong hands externally, could be worth a lot of money to a competitor, therefore data security is an aspect that should not be ignored. Normally distribution would be electronic, but again, emails may not be the most secure way of doing this.
Delivery of intelligence can be done in a number of ways. A standalone yet web-enabled software package is a practical solution to enable an organisation to analyse and provide intelligence for its own use. This package will be maintained at a specific location and incorporates security that does not allow access other than authorised personnel. This allows for a centrally maintained database to be accessed by all participating departments or organisations, where updates are immediately available for all parties and intelligence can be shared between organisations to ensure a greater benefit for all involved. This also allows for any new data to be uploaded to the central database and can be accessed by all parties immediately, rather than being installed at each location separately. Efficiency can be greatly increased in this way.
The Communications Cycle
The communications cycle describes the way in which both the supplier (i.e. the intelligence function) and the customer (i.e. management) need to work together to make the intelligence process as efficient as possible, and this will be especially true during the initial set up.
“It is not about accuracy or completeness, it is about making the best decisions possible in the given circumstances.”
(The on-going preparation of scheduled intelligence)
Whether information is being purchased externally or gathered internally and/or externally, there will be much ‘toing and froing’ between the intelligence function and management to ensure the raw data is consistent with the original specification detailed in the IRS.
Errors at this stage in the proceedings can have dire consequences later on, so it is very important that both parties make every effort to monitor the situation and identify and notify of any discrepancy. Once there is a schedule being followed, feedback can be passed both ways to ensure everything is running smoothly and there are no forecast changes in either the data captured or the analysis required.
(The delivery to schedule)
Once the above preparation has been done and the process is working well, management will assume that delivery will happen to the agreed timescales. This will normally result in a lack of communication until something goes wrong, when the communication will be short and critical! Any variations to the process will not be welcome, especially if actions, meetings and other consequences arise out of the non arrival of the management information to managers.
If the problem is outside the intelligence function’s control (e.g. if raw data purchased has not been delivered) or is in an area that needs a decision (e.g. if a process has not been designed to take account of Bank Holidays), proactive communication is essential rather than waiting until the event has or hasn’t happened. If a possible problem is communicated then both parties can work proactively to avoid the fallout, rather than point the finger at each other in blame. Conflict often occurs in these situations, but if these situations have been discussed at the outset and a contingency plan created, then the intelligence function and management are more likely to be able to work together to resolve the issue.
3 Action Plans
(The recommended and agreed action plans)
Many intelligence systems are built to deliver logically derived action plans to management. For example, if a sales person’s activity levels are way below target, possibly because of sickness absence, then the action plan will flag up the need for them to increase this activity by a certain number, to bring them back on target. The actual number of sales stated may in turn be derived from that individual’s conversion rate of leads to sales, so is tailored to the individual, not just an arbitrary average.
Action plans will be developed as circumstances change and will be reflected in the intelligence provided. This could include the action plans ‘written’ into the system. Regular meetings to discuss these should be scheduled between the parties to keep the system up to date and maximise its use and validity.
“Action plans will be developed as circumstances change and will be reflected in the intelligence provided.”
4 Monitor and Review
(The joint monitoring and review of value and suitability of provided intelligence)
As has been mentioned previously, most intelligence systems will not be static (i.e. no changes), they will be largely dynamic, (i.e. will need to change over time as parameters such as territory, product, sales person and targets inevitably change). This fact should be acknowledged right from the start and a change process built into the intelligence process. Both the intelligence function and management should work this process together (see 5 – Evolution).
Regular reviews of the intelligence provided and the intelligence needed should be scheduled and both sides should work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the organisation. A closed loop process is key, which means that both parties should take ownership of their own actions and have a robust system for following them up after decisions have been made, so that agreed changes can be implemented at once. This emphasises the need for good communication systems within the intelligence function and within the management group.
The following 3 discrete aspects of the intelligence system should be regularly reviewed: –
1. Is the intelligence system working in the way intended, e.g. meeting the timescales agreed, in the format agreed etc.?
2. Is the intelligence system producing the right outputs, i.e. does management receive the right data for them to manage their operation?
3. Are the managers making the right decisions using the recommended actions etc. that the intelligence system is giving them?
Point number 1 relates to the operational efficiency of the automated process. Problems here would typically be encountered at a specific point in the delivery of the analysed data, which would become noticeable very quickly and may be solved by the MI function before management even recognises there is a problem.
Point 2 relates to the integrity of the analysis as specified by the original IRS document. If the right data is not being delivered to management, then they will probably initiate a change, as described below in the number 5, the Evolution stage.
Point 3 relates to the ability of the managers to interpret and use the data and the recommended actions to make their operation more effective and efficient.
(The continuous evolution and improvement in Management Intelligence service research, capture and provision)
This final stage is the continual process of communicating the need for changes to the systems to meet the changing management requests. As part of the original design of the system and process, the ‘amendment process’ is key to controlling the cost and scope of a typical intelligence project. As has been described before, compromises on resource, timescale, costs etc. will be part of the initial stage and will probably continue to be a factor over time. This process should also act as a closed loop system, i.e. the actions and decisions of the previous meeting will act as the agenda and follow up for the next meeting. It should be possible to track the raising and resolving of the various issues through time to ensure that nothing falls through the net.
“Regular reviews of the intelligence provided and the intelligence needed should be scheduled and both sides should work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the organisation.”
Annual reviews are usually planned to take account of any major changes, many of which will be associated with an organisation’s year end or annual cycle etc. (e.g. territory changes, increased or decrease numbers of sales people, new products, price increases). These need to be scheduled well before year end as the intelligence function may need to do extensive work on the system to effect the changes.
In between annual reviews management and the intelligence function will probably keep a running list of small tweaks needed to the system and agree when they can be planned and implemented. In addition, the intelligence function will also be keeping an eye on the technical side of the system and may advise various IT hardware and software changes to improve the delivery and reduce overall costs.
The 12 Rules for Executive Intelligence
In consideration of the Executive Intelligence Cycle, the authors of this document have derived 12 rules which they believe are necessary for the provision of an effective executive intelligence function/service, regardless of organisation type.
1. Independent Management
2. Intelligence Requirements Specification
3. Clear and Defined Objectives
4. Capture and Discovery Process
5. Timely and Efficient Processing
6. Automatic and Incisive Analysis
7. Quality Assurance Process
8. Efficient Delivery Systems
9. Assisted Action Planning
10. Effective Implementation
11. Monitor and Review Procedure
12. Continuous Evolution of Services
About the authors:
Sue holds an MBA from the London Business School, and has a B.Ed. Hons. from Cambridge. She worked with the Centre for High Performance Development (CHPD) for many years and is currently an independent management and leadership trainer and is a member of the JEIG. Sue may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline holds an MBA from Exeter University and has a BSc (Hons) in Applied Statistics. She is currently Interim Director of Acute and Specialist Commissioning at NHS Bournemouth and Poole and has a special interest in exacting how good intelligence can save lives and money within an ever changing NHS. She is also a member and Chair of the JEIG.
Do you follow the 12 rules of Executive Intelligence?