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June 2006
Executive opinion

Economic Intelligence: staying ahead of the game
By Yves Véret, General Manager, Defense, Emerging Markets and Strategy

For some years now, Economic Intelligence has been becoming increasingly important within business, central and local government. This acceleration is due both to the globalization of the economy and the availability over the Internet of ever greater amounts of information.
The main objectives of Economic Intelligence are:
• To identify the best opportunities for the growth and development of economic activity
• To increase understanding of markets and competition, as well as of how they are changing, no matter how rapid that change may be
• To help protect national and corporate assets, be they economic, social or cultural.

A global background of instability
Globalization of the economy is causing the majority of developed countries (Europe, the United States, Japan) to experience increased competition in their home markets due to the growing scarcity of raw materials and the appearance on the scene of new economic players offering to produce goods at much lower cost. At the same time it offers these same countries the chance to widen their market horizons or zones of influence to include new geographic areas such as China, India, South-East Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Africa, the Middle East and North Africa on condition that they take on board the needs for sustainable development and technology transfer.

What are the consequences for business?
This new trend means that small to medium-sized companies and larger businesses alike are faced with continuous, insidious and silent paradigm shifts. As a result, they need to constantly adapt their processes, organization structures, management approaches and strategic alliances. Every month, around the globe, new competitors appear as if from nowhere and new regulations come into force. How can they be effectively identified? And how can companies protect themselves?
At the outset, Economic Intelligence was really a defense mechanism: inward looking and concerned with protecting national interests. But today it has moved forward to be a far more dynamic approach, focused on “the control and protection of the strategic information that is most useful to decision makers”.
An organization’s ability to collect, analyze and share strategic information is what gives it a competitive advantage in the conquest of new markets or in defending its market share. Implementing a rigorous policy of security for strategic information internally will protect the organization from any attack that may harm its business activities.

Knowledge as a decisive advantage
So knowledge has become a real weapon in the conquest of new markets: hence the advent of the term ‘Knowledge Warfare’ in some countries. Knowledge gathering is focused around various monitoring and early warning systems within the company or organization, such as:
• Strategy monitoring
• Competitor monitoring
• Technology monitoring.
Essentially oriented towards open sources of information (Internet, the press) these systems gather more and more information and continue to tie up more and more analysts. But the results are usually not widely distributed or shared by the various functions. The belief that the more information you can keep to yourself, the more power you have, often leads to a highly destructive bunker mentality that gets in the way of any useful processing of the information. Conversely, distributing the information in a controlled way throughout the organization enables it to be effectively appropriated and enriched by tapping into individuals’ implicit knowledge. And this, in turn, increases the probability that even the weakest early warning signals will be picked up.
Combining early warning systems and collaborative working tools within new-generation business intelligence portals or managerial ‘control panels’ is likely to encourage the early detection of opportunities and risks, and so engage people actively in choosing scenarios or deciding on the best way to implement projects.

Bull and Economic Intelligence
Capitalizing on its capabilities and expertise in technology innovation and systems integration, Bull has decided to develop an Economic Intelligence solution in its Defense, Emerging Markets and Strategy business unit. The company’s specialists define and deliver collaborative analysis platforms for processing open sources of heterogeneous information. To this end, Bull has formed a number of partnerships with European specialist software suppliers of solutions for textual research and analysis, and the indexing of images or sounds. In order to correlate the information that has been collected with company-specific data, these platforms are integrated within existing information systems and distributed to the various players for validation, enhancement or decision-making.
These kinds of collaborative analysis platforms take full advantage of the parallel architecture and processing power of Bull servers. When deployed alongside appropriate data storage solutions, they offer excellent performance when it comes to indexing and searching on vast amounts of information.
Collaborative working is a key factor in the performance of Economic Intelligence. From the very start, the inventory of data to be collected and the list of information sources to be monitored must be the subject of a group decision, taking into account all the necessary parameters. To achieve this, Bull’s consultants recommend the ‘Group Working Laboratories’ solution, from our partner RGA Systems. This is based on a completely computerized methodology that encourages the commitment of those involved and drastically reduces the number of meetings required.
Solutions for analyzing, visualizing and projecting multimedia data onto image walls can be provided to complement the range of Economic Intelligence solutions. They assist with the comprehension of complex systems, and increase the capacity for scenario simulation within decision support control panels.
In parallel to this, requirements for user authentication and securing data exchanges increase in direct relation to how sensitive the information in question is. So ‘user profiles’ can be further refined by granting time-limited access rights for specific purposes, enabling secure access to the information, guaranteed by both the information provider and the customer. Encryption solutions complete the range of security measures used to protect the information.

Numerous technical challenges to be overcome
The performance of any Economic Intelligence system depends on how well it can integrate technology innovations when it comes to the processing of information. This is why search engines — that enable Web pages in text format to be found using keywords — are now gradually being used much more widely to find multimedia data in other formats (images and sounds), as well as to search for corporate data, whether it is stored centrally or on employees’ workstations.
Against this backdrop, Bull is involved in a number of R&D projects looking at how semantics can be incorporated as part of the search process: in other words, how to take the ‘sense’ of something into account. When it comes to the storage and processing of multimedia data, the main areas for development involve greater parallel processing and the new generation of multimedia database management systems.

Bull’s information systems offerings for Economic Intelligence give its customers the opportunity to implement secure, open solutions, based on trusted software, implementing the best available technologies. To support the further development of these solutions, the Bull Institute has decided to set up an Economic Intelligence think tank, led by Admiral Pierre Lacoste. The group brings together a large number of economics specialists from the public and private sectors, as well as from universities and research institutes in France.

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