A remarkable transition that is happening on the quiet to push the world from the Information Age to the overpowering Age of Intelligence is felt but not consciously absorbed by the leaders of business and industry including those responsible for Corporate Governance. They are aware that comprehensive information was needed today for successful decision-making in any sphere and that all enterprises therefore had to make an investment on gathering and analysing information that was either available in the open or accessed through channels created with some special effort. The open sources of information broadly include publications, online material, seminars and conferences, public contacts and even trade exhibitions. The advent of the Age of Information gave instant access to any information that was put in the public domain and therefore any competitive advantage a player could derive from it would be incumbent upon the latter’s ability to use competent analysis to read into that open information some significance for the future that others had not noted. The analysis thus becomes an instrument of Intelligence generation.
Given the pace with which business is conducted, ‘time’ had acquired newfound importance as the new resource. It has become vital for decision makers not only to have knowledge of what had happened in the past and how things stood in the present but also to have an idea of what could happen in the future and in what time frame. Information that throws light on what lies ahead is what is called Intelligence. All Intelligence is information but all information is not Intelligence. Intelligence is information with certain attributes – reliable, relevant to decision making and futuristic- and because it is for action not just storage it must ‘come in time’ for that action or decision since events could easily overtake a delayed action. And finally because information of Intelligence value is something ‘exclusive’ in the hands of the user the latter had to handle it on a note of confidentiality till such time as action on it was completed. The competitive advantage of Intelligence would be lost otherwise.
From all of this it is clear that Intelligence is not something that is relevant only to the issues of national security – we live in times where in our business, professional and personal lives success is dependent on being well informed and being particularly attuned to accessing information that indicates risks and opportunities lying ahead. Intelligence orientation therefore, is a must for organisations as well as individuals as the Age of Information is yielding to what should be called the Age of Intelligence. Intelligence agencies working for national security use covert techniques of tradecraft to collect information about the unseen enemy under legal authorization. Other law-abiding players also had the right to know about competitive environ and rivals in business – but without resorting to ‘illegal’ methods. Intelligence has moved from the arena of national security to the world of global competition that was testing everybody at the professional or personal levels. Intelligence orientation helps to reach a new level of awareness or insight for achieving success – without giving a cause for creating enmity or ill will towards others. Ethical gathering of Intelligence is validated by Corporate Governance.
Power of observation, developing ‘effectiveness of differentiation’ and exercising the strength of imagination are the new tools of Intelligence. We see without observing, observe without absorbing and absorb without discretion – this nullifies the gains of observation as an aid to garnering Intelligence. Wilfredo Pareto famously said that ‘there are a significant few amongst the insignificant many’ establishing the importance of distinguishing essentials from non essentials in a given situation. People do not have the ability to differentiate between a minor irritant and a major problem or between what exists in the short term and what has a long-range implication. This is against Intelligence orientation. And finally it was left to the greatest scientist of all times – Albert Einstein – to enunciate that ‘Imagination was more important than knowledge’. In short, he was extolling the virtue of first putting the facts of the present together and then using imagination to get an insight into what they meant for the future. A simple illustration of imagination is the jigsaw puzzle in which a brighter child imagines the picture with a fewer number of pieces on board.
Applied Intelligence is now a part of life – amongst two peak performers in business today the only thing that would put one ahead of the other is the ability to read the trends of the future. Right from one’s recruitment into an organization to one’s rise to the leadership role where decisions will be taken on mergers and acquisition or investing in a new country after studying the external environ there, Intelligence would have a key role to play for him or her. The organization would like to take information-savvy people on board – those who can see the difference between a ‘decision’ and a ‘guess’, who are not credulous and who prefer authoritative opinion to gossip. Due diligence on competitors or potential targets of merger is an Intelligence-based exercise. Even a mid-course correction in business is based on information of Intelligence value. Corporate Security rightly engages consultants of Intelligence background since risk assessment is a comprehensive process based on paradigms of the ‘threat scenario’ outside and the vulnerability of the enterprise to the same, internally.
A successful enterprise has to be Intelligence oriented – this is the message of the Age of Intelligence that is upon us. In the Age of Information, technology made the processes ‘smart’ but now Artificial Intelligence is stepping in to make technology itself ‘smart’ producing a multiplier effect on productivity. Being ‘smart’ means securing greater output per unit of resource – money, manpower and ‘time’. Artificial Intelligence helps to detect ‘fault lines’ in an existing technology for further improvement and crucially covers even the initial part of the turf of ‘action’ in response to the triggers generated by data analytics – depending on the programming provided for it. Robotics that entails this is now becoming a part of high-end operations in all spheres – marking the arrival of the Age of Intelligence.
Age of Information mandated that ignorance was bliss no more and demanded that ‘employees’ became ‘knowledge workers’ who used their brainpower and not merely a pair of hands. The Age of Intelligence goes further to expect ‘knowledge workers’ to become ‘Intelligence Innovators’ and carry the organization to newer heights through solution finding – on their own or by using AI as a tool. An inevitable upshot of this in the sphere of national security is the advent of Information Warfare and Cyber Combat and the new thrust in the development of Defence Armament. This however, does not detract from the positive side of the current transformation of Age of Information to the Age of Intelligence – of advancing the cause of development and human welfare. (IANS)
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)