What’s in a Name? Defining What we do for the Wider Audience

MAY 2024

One of the hottest debates in our industry is explaining what we do and giving it a sensible name. There are so many loaded terms, many tainted by association with government, military, or covert work. It’s a constant topic of conversation at industry conferences. Note we can’t say WHAT industry, as we can’t adequately even define that!  

That said, the industry association is the Association of Risk Intelligence Professionals, or AIRIP. This seems simple enough, but is the term “risk intelligence” adequate? It perhaps makes sense to security professionals, who have traditionally been those in organisations most likely to make use of the insight provided by companies like ours. However, it is a limiting term. Risk is bad; risk is negative. Yes, risk should be acknowledged and mitigated. But opportunity is the corollary - and that is what people making profits or advancing organisational goals are more interested in. But the term “risk and opportunity intelligence” hardly trips off the tongue. 

Similarly, “strategic intelligence” and “geopolitical intelligence” are too wide as terms. Sure, this is the core of what many of us do; but it misses so much other work that we support or are involved in.  

Ultimately, it comes back to the purpose of what we produce as intelligence professionals (AIRIP certainly gets that bit right). Our role is to refine information to create wisdom, offering leaders what we call Decision Advantage. Essentially, we help them make better calls through applying effective processes to refine data into insight, giving them a road map to navigate by. As the world becomes an ever more complex place, understanding the environment as well as yourself becomes an increasingly critical task.  

Note that this is not related to threat, or risk, but rather to creating understanding. The problem set can vary widely. Sibylline supports a much wider range of clients than the traditional security industry core, for example in supply chain, legal, corporate communications, the Boardroom, ESG, and cyber functions. However, many do not understand what intelligence can offer, or assume that intelligence professionals can’t understand their problem. The reality is we can – think of the range of functions in government that are supported by intelligence insight, and the sheer scope of policies. Ultimately, if a decision-maker has a problem (and which ones don’t), we can help them find a way to solve it, or at least stack odds in their favour and be adequately prepared for changing circumstances.  

This comes back to our core competence, which is not only being able to understand the environment, but also to understand who cares – and why. After all, answering the “so what” question is so much harder if you don’t understand what it is! This only comes from thoughtful engagement and achieving a wealth of understanding about the decision-maker early in the intelligence process, to fuel it effectively and ensure that the answers to the problem – whatever it is – truly hit the money.  

This is related to another concept doing the rounds at the moment, which is professional intelligence – or “Prosint”. We have always disliked the open source intelligence (OSINT) moniker; back in the day it was seen as second-rate or just telling people what they could already read in the papers, or on the web. Now, it is increasingly seen as a niche hobbyist activity – often free, and therefore valueless. This is to miss the point. Even in Iraq in 2005, 90% of what coalition forces needed to know came from OSINT, and there was an admission that another 5% could probably have been found if trying harder. This ratio has rarely changed since. However, “pure” OSINT often misses the mark on the requirement; it is often captured because the person collecting and analysing it finds it interesting – which does not necessarily make it useful. It is also of course prone to bias, mis/disinformation, and a general lack of rigour making it open for challenge. 

“Prosint”, inelegant as it is, is therefore a term to watch. Professional endeavour is of course rarely free but comes with increased value, else we wouldn’t be in business, and you wouldn’t be reading this. It is the application of professional approaches, trained and honed in many settings, that allows for the focus on the decision-maker while also taking advantage of the access to data and information about all aspects of our world that is currently increasing exponentially.  

We aren’t yet describing ourselves as Prosint Providers, nor would many understand that term. But at least we might hope that the value that intelligence brings, to all decision-makers, will continue to be increasingly recognised. After all, if you’re not making decisions based on actionable intelligence, then what exactly are you basing them on…? 

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Justin Crump, CEO 

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