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Business radar

13 August 12

A new short series on how to respond effectively to an ever-changing business world and those "left field" events: (1) intelligence gathering

by Neil Forrest

Can you always see strategic surprises coming?

The best way to deal with events is to anticipate them before they actually occur. Most (but not all) “sudden” business events – often both a threat and an opportunity – are not truly unexpected and you have probably had some prior indication of their emergence, through the market. The trend of consolidation of firms, for example, has gained gradual momentum over some years; early signals included the downturn itself and the first mergers that occurred.

What type of intelligence process should be set up?

It’s best to have a formal “early warning” system in place – allocate responsibility to a senior staff member to report on key sector developments each month, both from formal sources such as literature and seminars and informal sources such as word of mouth. Even in bullet-point form, a monthly presentation to partners will be valuable, and grouping events as a threat/opportunity/both, or under red, amber or green headings, could also assist in prioritising discussion time. Such discussion could lead to badging, such as: “further investigation needed”, “low risk and ignore”; or “keep monitoring”.

When and how should a detected trend be escalated?

An emerging trend that has been identified as significant may justify some additional dedicated intelligence gathering and reporting, outwith the monthly review. Again a process and timescales should be allocated to this and an appropriate person nominated. It will be vital to monitor an emerging trend against the current strategic plan – does this change anything and can we still do what we thought we could do in the plan? If not, strategic change is needed.

How can we accurately predict the impact of an event or trend?

A “keep monitoring” event might begin life from a weak signal without any particular direction, and some creative inputs may be needed to predict its direction – beginning the process of an action plan. By doing this, the response can be initiated much more quickly than if you simply waited for a clear trend before acting, likely finding yourself well behind the competition in your planning.

Neil Forrest provides strategy and funding advice to the legal sector and other business groups. 
t: 0131 440 4118; e:


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