Intelligence collection: the second-oldest profession

11th April 2015 |   John Ardis

Can business learn any lessons from the professional intelligence community? Dr John Ardis suggests we can.

Intelligence collection: the second-oldest profession

During the Cold War, teams of intelligence analysts would pore over microfilm and squint at grainy aerial photographs. Human intelligence sources (or HUMINT in the vernacular – better known as spies) provided secret information about weapons, other spies, dark strategies and double bluffs.

You may have seen some classic films that portrayed the enduring friction and competition between the superpowers in the period between the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Many of these films are somewhat fanciful, and others exposed the gritty and thoroughly unglamorous reality of espionage and counterespionage. Intelligence collection was the focus, and the bottleneck; analysts would explore each nugget of intelligence assiduously. Meanwhile, the seasoned spymasters worried whether they were being spun a yarn.

What’s changed? The problem of selection

Spy versus spy remains a constant competition, and it’s a congested space these days. You’ll recognise some-high profile personalities (Snowden, Assange), but the sheer complexity of data and the number of players in the high-tempo game is the real challenge.

So are there parallels we can draw between contemporary national intelligence activities and business intelligence? The answer is a resounding “yes”.

John Ardis has worked in the electronics industry, initially in the music sector and then as a director of two UK electronics companies serving the automotive and medical sectors. He graduated from the University of York in 1991 with an honours degree in Computational Physics and entered HM Government service. He has worked in acquisition (managing projects worth up to £800m), policy and security.Ardis read for a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Strategic Intelligence and Deception Operations and graduated from Middlesex University in 2009. He works across Europe, the Middle East and the US with a range of partners including governments, agencies and industries.