Strategic decision making – crisis data and intelligence
June 2019 | TALKINGPOINT | BOARDROOM INTELLIGENCE
Financier Worldwide Magazine
June 2019 Issue
FW moderates a discussion on strategic decision making, focusing on crisis data and intelligence, between David Imison, Juliet Young, Lily Kennett, Emily Williams and Adam Wilkinson at Schillings International LLP.
FW: Could you outline how modern strategic decision making has evolved in recent years to meet the demands of today’s changing, fast-paced and volatile business world? How is this approach being enhanced and refined to deal with crisis scenarios?
Imison: Most businesses want to integrate data and technology into their decision-making process. The challenge is not so much the technology itself but the ability to use the technology or data to sensibly inform your strategy. This challenge becomes even more acute in a crisis, when dealing with events outside your control, as well as multiple interested stakeholder groups, such as journalists, social media commentators, regulators, banks and non-government organisations (NGOs). It used to be the case that individuals and companies had time to investigate events and get ahead of certain problems before the next news cycle, thus exerting an element of control. Now the news cycle is permanent, global and digital. The ability of interested parties to generate their own intelligence online is a major challenge. In order to stay ahead of the problem and make fast strategic decisions, legal teams need trained intelligence analysts at their side 24/7.
FW: What tools and technologies are being used to collect, coordinate, analyse and decipher data to assist decision-making processes during a crisis? How can business leaders differentiate key data from the rest?
Young: The tools and technologies very much depend on the kind of crisis you are facing, the strategy you will follow in order to manage it and the questions you will need to answer to achieve that strategy. For example, in a reputational crisis, such as a leak of information, you might need to collect a wide range of data to pinpoint how the data was leaked. This will not only assist in taking effective legal action, but there may be measures you can put in place to prevent it from happening again. In this kind of situation, we might suggest collecting email server data, file access logs, authentication and authorisation logs, telephone logs, website logs, printer logs, door access and possibly CCTV footage. Depending on the crisis, it may be prudent to forensically analyse devices to recover any deleted or modified evidence. It will also be important to consider non-technical data, such as ‘human intelligence’, which may provide valuable context and inform decision making. Lastly, you will want to keep on top of external data such as social media content which might reflect how quickly the crisis is growing or changing. Given the volume of data and the short amount of time you have, you will want tools and technologies which help ‘cut through the noise’, to spot patterns or anomalies. Intelligence teams can use effective visualisation tools to draw out relevant data points quickly and easily, and convey these points to the necessary stakeholders involved in managing a crisis, such as PR representatives and lawyers.
FW: During a crisis, when quick, effective decisions need to be made, how important is it to monitor data in real time? How can predictive analysis help?
Williams: Quick and effective decisions rely on a solid initial understanding of the situation coupled with the most up-to-date, pertinent information. Real-time, or near real-time, data monitoring and predictive analysis can be extremely powerful, but both are double-edged swords. As with all decision support tools, they have the potential to be relied upon without question. Follow the wrong sources or search for evidence of a predetermined conclusion and you will quickly go astray. The key is having the right risk indicators selected in the first place. Selecting the data and fully understanding the basis upon which prediction engines are operating are key to the effective use of both tools. The great strength of any predictive technology is that it can help sift the immense amount of available data into workable amounts. It effectively adds capacity to your decision-making team. For example, in cases where a company wants to prevent publication of defamatory and inaccurate information on a worldwide basis, the legal team can evaluate whether it would be possible to bring a pre-publication or post-publication action in each of the jurisdictions the material was being published. Such a task requires accurate, detailed and precise information about the material that would be printed, distributed and sold in each of the jurisdictions, both in print and electronic formats. Using real time data and predictive analysis, intelligence teams can provide headline analysis so that the legal team can prioritise their efforts effectively.
FW: To what extent has social media changed the playing field for a company in crisis? How important is it to monitor, gather and analyse social media intelligence, to gauge public perception and track the nature and profile of a crisis scenario?
Kennett: We would not want to understate the importance of the ‘traditional’ media. This is still really significant, not least because it forms an important part of the permanent record on any issue. That said, social media has, of course, been a game-changer. Rapid response as situations unfold has always been integral to crisis work, however, in the social media era, the speed that information moves and proliferates is unprecedented. In the absence of regulation or even filters in many cases, it is also easier than ever for false and misleading information to work its way into the public domain and spread fast. Monitoring is part of the answer, and for this to be done really successfully it is valuable to spend time up front to assess what you would monitor for. Simply put, what matters most, and how do you track it? This might include a focus on images or hashtags, or a close watch on influential accounts for comments or inferences that might influence the dialogue. You need to monitor in a meaningful way to inform the response. It is possible to scenario plan and engage proactively on crisis management, so that you are on the front foot as something unfolds.
FW: How can strategic decision making assist companies to communicate effectively and control the message during a crisis?
Kennett: It is important to distinguish between strategy and tactics. ‘Strategy’ tells you where you need to get to. ‘Tactics’ are how you get there. Both are essential to managing a crisis. The strategy is especially important as this is, effectively, what controls the message and cascades the right tone and approach down to all of the relevant stakeholders. Getting the right people in the room at the outset to decide on a strategy and communicate the implantation of that can make a critical difference. Again, this is an area where scenario planning can make all of the difference. As with any business crisis, the more that the predictable elements have been anticipated and rehearsed, the better able the individual or organisation will be to manage unpredictable elements. Intelligence teams and lawyers help companies prepare for major milestones in litigation, or for committee hearings or corporate transactions, usually alongside internal or external PR advisers.
FW: What advice would you offer to companies on strengthening their strategic decision-making plans and processes to prepare for a crisis event? What considerations do they need to make?
Williams: At the risk of sounding like a property programme, understand, understand, understand – your business, your people and your operating environment, at every level and well in advance. Regular operating strategies generally benefit from a calm environment where plans can flex around evolving requirements. There is no such luxury in a crisis. There are four key things that every member of a predetermined crisis team needs to know: what is the core thing that we are trying to achieve, what is my role, how can I operate and how might the situation get worse? This is not an exercise in over-control. There will be nuances to every crisis that cannot be rehearsed, but a solid strategy can generally withstand some tactical blunders. The same is not true in reverse. A decision-making team that understands its central goal and its operating parameters will have a solid chance of containing the problem.
FW: Looking ahead, do you expect more companies to devote additional time and resources to improving their strategic decision making? Is intelligent data and analysis only going to become more integral to this process?
Wilkinson: Analysis of Big Data has advanced so dramatically in recent years that decision makers are getting increasingly sophisticated with respect to their ability to digest and utilise data. Intelligent data analysis represents progress in this respect, though growth in this area will likely be tempered by a growing appreciation of the limits of data, or, more properly, having a robust understanding of what data sources are meaningful in given situations. Lateral insights can be powerful, but strong strategic decision making relies on getting comfortable with what information would actually move the needle on decisions. Information that does not actually alter your strategy or behaviour can be a distraction, so as information gets more sophisticated and tightly targeted, successful decision makers will also refine their intake. This will take time and resource up front, but it will also pay dividends in terms of the quality of the decisions made.
David Imison is a reputation and privacy risk adviser. Much of his work is for individuals and businesses operating in challenging markets, where issues are complex and often politically exposed. His role is to help clients navigate the risks stemming from disputes, controversies and crises. His work involves developing strategies to exert control over difficult situations where there are often varied and competing interests from parties including: the media, governments, NGOs, banks and financial institutions. He can be contacted by email: email@example.com.
Juliet Young draws on over 15 years of experience in the corporate investigations and intelligence field to help clients solve reputation management and privacy problems. A seasoned investigator, she knows where to look for information across multiple jurisdictions that may be of interest to journalists and third party detractors, and how it may be used. She also helps individuals and businesses to design focused strategies for dealing with reputation management problems. She can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lily Kennett works closely with corporate leaders and prominent individuals to help them identify and address critical gaps in their knowledge. Drawing on a background in journalism and international relations, as well as a decade in business intelligence and investigations, she assists clients in identifying, interpreting and responding to reputational risks and provides reporting to support strategic decision making. She can be contacted by email: email@example.com.
Following a successful career working for British military intelligence, Emily Williams is able to draw on her discreet, specialist and international expertise to provide clients with an in-depth analysis of their complete reputational and privacy environment. Using innovative investigative and analytical techniques, she is able to guide clients in assessing the full spectrum of threats that they may face – from current issues to future ones. She can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With extensive experience in protecting the reputations of prominent individuals and international organisations, Adam Wilkinson helps clients to navigate both highly regulated and high risk environments. With an MBA from Henley Business School and having previously worked in the defence aviation sector, he assists clients in mitigating risks before they emerge while developing better responses to adverse reputational events. He can be contacted by email: email@example.com.
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