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INTELLIGENCE AND THE CONCEPT OF "CUSTOMERS"

Tuesday, May 06, 2008
AFCEA Intelligence

LTG Rich Zahner's observation two weeks ago at the AFCEA Spring Intelligence Symposium on Breaking Down Barriers to Information Sharing that intelligence is meant for decision makers vice customers brought one of my favorite hobby horses out of the barn --- the ill conceived concepts of intelligence community customers.Economics 101 teaches us that a customer is someone who trades resources for products or services. What intelligence user, decision maker or otherwise actually does this? I know the National Intelligence Program (NIP) makes intelligence a "prepaid service," but for whom ----- the President, an E-5 squad leader in Iraq, a GS-12 at DHS, a coalition partner, etc., etc, ?!?! This pratice also causes intelligence to be seen as a free good where intelligence users, no matter what their positions, can create unlimited demand for intelligence without cost to them.The current system insures that the higher up in the government food chain an individual or organization is not only will they have better access to intelligence, but because they are a "power user" they will also have more influence over what the Intelligence Community (IC) collects, produces, and provides. This approach actually makes sense in a hierarchical top down decision making process that existed in the U.S. government until the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Information Technology (IT) revolution in the early 1990s. The IT revolution enabled visionaries like Art Cebrowski to actually begin to operationalize "net centricity" in the Department of Defense (DoD) during the 90s to enable effective decisions to be made further down the chain of command inside of the decision "clock speed" of a 4th Generation Warfare adversary. Prior to 9/11 then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Computers, and Intelligence (C3I) monikered this phenomena as "power to the edge." Of course, power to the edge also means intelligence to the edge, raising the question of what kind of intelligence should the IC produce and for whom? Even more specifically this raises the question of how IC collection, analytical, production, and dissemination resources should be allocated? In a market driven business model this is easy ----- those who pay get and demand verses supply will set a fair value price. Because it is so radical in government terms, I shall resist calling for the US IC to restructure itself as a "content provider" (e.g., Disney, Time Warner, etc.) where the NIP (less management and infrastructure costs) is distributed to government departments by some (I am sure) complicated formula and they then pay the IC for the content (i.e. intelligence product or services) they need or want. I know it will never work, but such a system would tell the Director of National Intelligence (and his Executive and Congressional Branch overseers) in short order who wants what kind of intelligence and what it is worth.Now that I have gotten that out of my system, a more realistic business model for the IC to assume is that of the modern IT enabled and accessed publicly funded library --- but with its own content provisioning capability. Free lending public libraries, as we know, don’t have costumers but patrons.A good library always has all the appropriate reference material for its user community, which in this case is geo-spatial information, order of battle, capabilities studies, biographies, and geopolitical studies etc. Then based on Requests for Information (RFIs) intelligence could be either produced or procured by the IC and organized by something like the old intelligence function codes (IFCs) such as military intelligence, infra-structure, science & technology, terrorism, counter-intelligence, diplomacy, etc. These functional groupings could then be further stratified in terms of user needs and classification.Many of you will recognize what I just described as the Library of National Intelligence (LNI) concept that is part of the DNI's Analytic Transformation Initiative. Done right, the LNI will be more than just a virtual collection of intelligence products and services. Like any IT enabled virtual library, the LNI will allow not just for reuse of intelligence, but for simultaneous use of its products and services. More importantly with existing Business Intelligence (BI) analytics and Customer Relations Management (CRM) software, the LNI can provide the IC's management with both the quantitative and qualitative metrics for what is being used where why as well as what intelligence needs are going under or unmet. Moreover, BI and CRM capabilities in an LNI context would allow the IC to segment it offerings so the IC can align what it produces with the detail, timeliness, and classification needs of the spectrum of intelligence users from the President, to an ambassador on station, to a military squad on patrol, or a customs agent in the port of Long Beach.For the most part the DNI's LNI concept is being discussed and developed in the presence tense in terms of improving intelligence information sharing and collaboration capabilities. Behind the necessary goodness of intelligence sharing and collaboration I see the LNI as a means for providing a more rational data based process for determining what information is collected, how it analyzed, who its intended audience is, and how it is staged and packaged. Not exactly a market model for allocating what intelligence is made available for consumers (or LNI patrons!), but it is one that is at least more user than producer lead and will enable a listening IC to discover its consumer communities and respond with better segmented products and services.What is not so clear to me about the LNI is who should get a library card and who decides what a consumer's access authority should be.That's what I think --- what do you think?

Comments

I missed the symposium and thus General Zahner's remarks. But I have always hated the term "customer." It's simply the wrong model. If I'm in a market environment with a true customer, the limits of my responsibility are real. The transaction is simply a commercial exchange where my fundamental responsibility is not to deceive the customer about what he or she is getting as their part of the exchange. Beyond that, my primary interest is, in the end, my interest. As I've told classes for years, if I'm a checker at Safeway and a customer wants to buy 43 bottles of tabasco sauce, I may want to mention that some families (outside Louisiana) keep the same bottle until it achieves some truly unique color and consistency. But it's not my place to say it's a foolish purchase.
In a fiduciary relationship, on the other hand, I accept a duty to place my client's interests (within reason) first. There is no reason, in most circumstances, for my local Home Depot to extend its hours because I arrived late. I'd be very unhappy if my physician, delayed by an emergency, cut off my examination because "Oops. Closing time!"
Intelligence should not be in the position of "selling" itself, or "selling" the "product" of a given agency or source over another. Intelligence is about helping the client achieve his or her objective, whether that is a policy objective or a military objective. And that may mean, as it does for physicians, lawyers, and other professionals, a willingness to tell the client we see significant downside, for example, to a proposed course of action. Still the client's call, but it is the role of intelligence to advise in a manner far beyond the "market exchange" model.

By Bill Nolte

In repsonse to Bill Nolte

Here Here

. . . . and if the IC likes the customer metaphor than it should develop market metrics. Customers, through purchases determine what Safeway stocks on the shelves and Home Depot's hours of operation. I agree with Bill that there are lots of good reasons for the IC not going down the market driven path and therefore should "shelve" the customer metaphor! joemaz

By joemaz