Building the Intelligence Function: Seven Potholes on the Road to Success


With proper vision, capable teams and intentional systems, the intelligence function can empower an organisation by illuminating risks and opportunities. However, many leaders underestimate the diligent planning and sustained commitment needed to build a successful company from scratch.

After consulting for numerous organisations over the years, we’ve seen intelligence managers make the same preventable mistakes. Here are seven of them:


Failure to Align then Define

Without a shared understanding of what intelligence means and its purpose, you invite disillusionment. We often develop comprehensive templates, methodologies, and business plans for clients who, after a consultation period, came back to us with the realisation: “You know what? We’re not ready yet.”

This self-awareness is crucial. Get alignment early on key terms like “threat”, “risk” and “resilience”, then ensure your stakeholders are all on the same page regarding the intelligence function’s purpose and scope. By putting the work getting all eyes on the same vision early, you oil the capability for growth.

Thinking in Silos

With definitions in mind, chances are another team is already performing intelligence in one form or another. Leave your ego at the door and tap into people across functions who hold relevant insights; whether in cyber, fraud, compliance, or competitive intelligence. It pays well to think outside the security bubble.

Some of our clients go on to establish a commercial equivalent of DNI or JIO, something many practitioners in the industry fantasise about but only a handful achieve. This needn’t always be the goal. Regardless of method, any coordination of efforts to learn from each other, fill gaps, and inform requirements might come in handy when faced with a complex crisis.


Inadequate Systems

Attempting to build an intelligence function without proper infrastructure is like launching an app without code. Don't be lulled into taking shortcuts; you need rigorous systems for information collection, funneling data sources, doing analysis, and sharing insights.

When engaging in consulting projects, we guide clients through meticulous design processes to customize their intelligence management systems, avoiding the urge to simply buy an off-the-shelf tool. The more you sweat the details, the more resilient the function will be when things get hectic.

Innovation Avoidance

Once you have those systems in place, don’t let them rot. Think of your intelligence team like a startup within the business. Embrace creativity, new ideas, and ingenuity at each stage of the intelligence cycle. This has been a key principle of our Global Intelligence Team since the beginning and central to surfacing capabilities for automating mundane tasks.

There will be times when policies and bureaucracy stifle innovation, but this can also breed creative solutions if you allow the team to take calculated risks. On that note…


Betting on AI Too Early

AI holds promise but isn't a magic wand. Apply it deliberately for automatable tasks such as data collection and cleaning, but tread with caution on predictive modeling and risk forecasting.

Good quality intelligence relies on human judgement, auditing, and contextualization of information to deliver the actionable insight your audience demands.

Obsessing About Pedigrees

Having undertaken numerous reviews of recruitment and staffing strategies for clients, we know how important it is to ditch preconceptions about must-have backgrounds. Some ex-military and law enforcement professionals transition seamlessly to corporate intelligence, many don't.

Seek out balanced capabilities in analysis, data diving, critical thinking, investigating, and good judgement. Talent also takes time to cultivate, so develop your people relentlessly.

Portrait of a senior woman standing in office. Female entrepreneur with short hair and business casuals looking at camera.

Not Securing Buy-In

Finally, gaining leadership support is crucial but insufficient. Influencers across the organisation can stall progress if they don't see the value of intelligence. Tackle this by communicating benefits (in relatable language), addressing concerns transparently, and nurturing a culture that values foresight.

For example, we’ve assisted clients in socializing their new intelligence function through internal newsletters and town halls focused on how intelligence enables effective risk management. Financial investment will only come with consistent, enterprise-wide support for the mission.

The path is challenging, but if you build upon robust foundations, implement them intentionally, and bring together complementary skills, you’ll almost certainly make your intelligence function an indispensable strategic asset.

Jack Nott-Bower MSyI is Sibylline’s Head of Training and Consulting. To learn more about our consulting solutions, contact us via the link below.

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