Intelligence gathering is a job most people associate with the CIA. They might be surprised to know that private businesses are recruiting intelligence analysts and putting them to work tracking potential threats, as well. Those threats aren’t necessarily foreign militaries and terrorist groups—though they can be—but the full panorama of societal developments, technology changes, and market shifts that could raise or sink a company’s bottom line.
Many Companies, Many Business Intelligence Jobs
Amazon received some blowback this week over job ads it had posted in which it called for “intelligence analysts” to monitor and advise on “threats” to the company’s operations. The analysts would advise the legal team and upper management on how to confront “labor organizing threats against the company,” “corporate campaigns (internal and external) against Amazon,” and “activist groups,” and assist legal with actions such as filing restraining orders against opposing groups – among a number of other job duties related to typical business intelligence functions.
Twitter users blasted what they described as Amazon’s open call for “union busters,” noting recent swells of dissent among Amazon workers over workplace conditions. A columnist for Zdnet.com wrote that these Amazon ads are a “rarity in the tech world, as you don’t see companies like Amazon hiring union-busters and private investigators out in the open”; companies instead typically use “private contractors under heavy non-disclosure agreements” for these types of jobs.
Amazon Isn’t the First Private Company to Hire Intelligence Analysts
There is nothing rare about business intelligence analysts (sometimes shortened to “BI analysts”) in general, however. Businesses in nearly every industry have formed BI departments and rely on them to guide their decision-making.
Quashing dissent is not a typical part of the job. Arizona State University’s website describes the BI analyst role as offering “recommendations for business growth and improvement.” BI analysts more commonly look at the customer bases, markets, andthe products and services that other competing businesses are producing. What they find, they’ll compile into reports and present these to management, who will use them while making decisions about what the company will produce, how it will market it, where its best market opportunities will be, or how it should change its financial management or hiring practices.
“Knowing how to properly collect and interpret data can have a significant impact on a business’ success,” the university’s website states.
A business administration degree is considered to be a good first step in a BI analyst career. Many positions ask for software programming skills, such as knowledge of Python or use of analytical tools. This is because BI analysts frequently use software systems to bring volumes of data together and spot useful trends and patterns within it.
Examples of Intelligence Analyst Teams at Work
- Walmart has been using BI tools since 2008, when it first implemented Oracle’s Business Intelligence software suite. Company analysts using the software guide the higher-up leadership on matters of logistics, transportation, finance, merchandising, human resources, and store and club operations nationwide and across the globe.
- SFK, a multinational manufacturer and supplier of bearings, seals, mechatronics, and lubrication systems, counts on BI analysts to forecast market demand and size across the globe, and it adjusts its manufacturing accordingly. Its analysts used to work in many departments and compile their own individual data sets, but in recent years the company established a centralized data system so that analysts across all departments could share their data and findings, so that they can make system-wide plans for the company’s next steps.
- CenterLight, a managed-care organization that provides health coverage and services, developed a BI system that integrates all of its data into one centralized system. The organization uses this system to run predictive analytics on how its patients will react to changes in policy and drive improvements in quality care, clinical outcomes, and the organization’s financial health. Staff using these findings said that they are better able to improve patient retention and minimize disruptions during times of policy changes.
Outlook for intelligence analysts in the Private Sector
Oracle is one of many software players in the BI market. IBM, SAP, Attensity Group, Adobe Systems, NetBase Solutions, and Cision have also rolled out popular BI systems and services. Gartner predicted global revenue of BI services rising to $22.8 billion this year, and Reuters forecasts profits growing further to $29.48 billion by 2022. And the job market for BI analysts is expected to grow 21% from 2014 to 2024, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Looking back on the last 20 years, it’s not hard to see why. Consider game-changing technologies such as the smartphone, new business models such as Netflix and Uber, and the myriad big businesses that all of these new arrivals drove into bankruptcy—perhaps Blockbuster have benefitted from BI guidance in the early 2000s, who’s to say? Or think of the opening of whole new market opportunities, such as the nascent “commercial space industry,” artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. How to spot new opportunities such as these and tap into them? That, too, comes down to BI.
And then there are dramatic cataclysms, like the worldwide pandemonium that is 2020. Perhaps no one at the start of this year could have fully foreseen the disruptions of COVID-19. However, businesses that made themselves fully aware of the impacts of infection outbreaks and lockdowns and developed emergency plans to navigate them have more often than not fared better. This, as well, is easier to do with reliable BI analysts who keep a lookout for larger-scale change.
“The challenge for all business is that disruption… is the new norm. Businesses can expect the need to access and apply intelligence in the next five years to continue to expand,” wrote Megan Power, a consultant with Expert360. “Fortunately, new online tools and specialist BI start-ups are filling the current capacity and capability gap in data analytics.”