Blog provided by Emergent Risk International

In our work helping corporate and multi-lateral agency teams structure critical intelligence programs, it is always our advice that companies prioritize intelligence capabilities that support critical decision-making functions that ensure life safety, incident stability, business continuity, and enterprise growth (in that order).

While this necessarily means acquiring tactical intelligence that can support crisis decision-making under a wide variety of circumstances, strategic intelligence is also crucial – and too often left out of budget planning.

Crisis management, like many of the functions that serve the entire business, needs a broad view of the risks inherent in the company’s business. To have that view, crisis teams need consistent, formalized strategic risk intelligence about the company’s operations and the environments in which they operate. This type of information is imperative in the early identification and mitigation of possible crisis situations. In practice, however, many crisis management teams are only receiving ad hoc or highly tactical information at the onset of – and throughout a crisis. In neglecting a strategic view of issues affecting operations, teams leave the most valuable tool for managing and mitigating crisis – informed planning – on the table.  

Business-specific strategic risk intelligence allows for high-quality planning and risk mitigation. Through targeted strategic information feeds, CM personnel can monitor developing dynamics and situations in areas of focus for the company. For example, a tactical intel service will not alert your team to a new piece of information that suggests that China may begin restricting the export of rare earth magnets in response to US trade sanctions. This may not be an immediate crisis, but it would be a major brewing crisis should your company be involved in the manufacture of electronics or use machines that require these magnets (almost all modern computerized machines do). Restricting access to these magnets would hamper electronic manufacturing, development of renewable energy, and just about every industry in some way. Currently, China produces and exports 90% of the world’s supply. Decisions that your leadership takes now in the face of such information would be key in addressing the potential crisis, hopefully saving substantial money and time in dealing with the fallout – should it occur.

Related: Supply Chain Risk Tabletop Exercises

The consistent implementation of targeted strategic intelligence feeds will be different in every company. However, in almost any company, much of this knowledge can be developed off the backs of existing risk management processes or through cross-functional teams and information sharing. For example, some companies excel at annual risk planning that allows for annual or twice-yearly evaluation of risks with inputs from functions across the enterprise. But quite often, this is where the process ends, making it more of a compliance exercise – but locking up value that could be multiplied across the organization with a few additional steps. Often the output goes on a shared drive somewhere until the next review process comes up.

This document, however, can be used as the cross-functional foundation for breaking down silos and mapping those risk scenarios to specific intelligence sources and building a plan for consistent flows of this information to the stakeholders across the organization, including the crisis management team. This will help the company consistently track indicators of change across key risk areas and take action earlier to address potential crises.

An entry in that information requirement mapping might look something like this:

Political StabilityIssue/ ConcernSources of informationInformation TempoInternal stakeholdersCountry Manager/ Regional PresidentCrisis Management Lead/ Local crisis response lead
PeruContinuous shifts in government leadership affecting ability to implement projects, import/export capacity, worker safety on mining sites.Local office, Business teams
Local press
Tactical intelligence alerts
Strategic intelligence updates
Monthly check-ins/ as needed   SMS/email alerts as needed

Daily/ weekly subscription feeds   Pushed / requested from internal team as needed
Enterprise Risk Management
Crisis Management
Public Affairs
Corporate Social Responsibility
Global Security
Lat Am Business Leadership
June Smith – Regional president (contact info)   Harry Vines Country manager (contact info)Imma Winner – Lat Am Crisis Response Lead    

Better strategic intelligence and crisis planning leading up to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine could’ve made all the difference for companies that were blindsided by sudden shortages, the need to rapidly reorganize their eastern Europe operations and end their Russian operations overnight. In this case, even those that weren’t operating in Russia were impacted, with inflation from energy prices increasing the cost of everything from energy to food and the cost of labor. In addition, most supply chain and crisis functions probably didn’t realize in the lead-up to that crisis just how many of their source materials and materials needed for creation of their product like neon, palladium, and metals came from Russia or Ukraine and would be under strain as a result. According to a study by Deloitte, there are only 15,000 tier one suppliers to international companies in Russia, however, there are more than 7.6 million tier two relationships between Russia and international entities. While we couldn’t prevent the invasion of Ukraine, there was plenty of intelligence in the lead-up suggesting that the invasion was possible, and much of that intelligence likely didn’t make its way to crisis management groups. Here again, better regular strategic intelligence and follow on crisis planning could’ve helped alleviate some of the costs and scrambling that followed in multi-national companies all over the world.

So in the end, how does strategic intel help you do your job better as a crisis manager? First, it helps you better understand the context in which you are operating when a crisis actually hits. Second, it provides more opportunities to educate your primary decision-makers, giving them more time to act and more reasonable options upon which to act. Ad hoc and tactical information will always be crucial in a crisis, but by the time you’ve reached that point, your options have dramatically narrowed and most of them aren’t good. Bringing strategic information into your program on a consistent and targeted basis will get you further, faster. This, in turn, will allow you to position your most important customer – your key decision-makers – to make the best decisions possible when the crisis actually hits.

Meredith Wilson is the CEO and Founder of Emergent Risk International. Emergent Risk International is a strategic intelligence and advisory firm specializing in crafting business-centered risk intelligence, technology, staffing, training and consulting solutions to address geopolitical, regulatory and security risk for your business.