This is the first in a series of blogs exploring the varied careers and positions that a risk intelligence analyst can hold, jobs they can do, and impact they can have on different types of organizations...
When people ask me what I do, my reply -- “I work in global security intelligence for a major medical device manufacturer” --is often met with a nod and an “OK… what does that mean?” Fair question. In my previous job in national-security intelligence, people usually assumed I was a spy. Or they feigned understanding when I told them that I analyzed political and military developments in South Asia and the Middle East. At the federal level, intelligence analysis typically focuses on a particular geographic, functional, or technical topic. Federal analysts will zero in on a small slice—national governance, security ministries, or orders of battle—of a larger problem set, such as a country or region. In the private sector, the role of the risk intelligence analyst may vary, but the analyst is likely to have broad responsibilities, ranging across all aspects of a corporation’s interests. In my job at SJM, one day may resemble another but rarely are those days consecutive. In just the last several months I have written products on security and business implications of impeachment proceedings in Brazil; assessed the Brexit; researched potential physical and data/IP implications of Pokemon GO™; crafted due diligence and country risk assessments; consulted with travelers heading to volatile areas; prepared incident notifications to our Crisis Management Team, and, from my dining room table, supported travelers in emergency situations. And these are just a few of the varied tasks that fall to our team.
Small Size, Broad Mandate
The small intelligence staffs of the private sector account for the broad range of their responsibilities. In government, I was one of several thousand analysts at my agency, in an intelligence community of 18 member agencies. Now, I am one of two with intelligence responsibilities in a global security unit that totals fewer than 20 and supports an organization of over 18,000 employees. At its core, the role of the risk intelligence analyst in the private sector is to enable the conduct of business, through proactive identification, assessment, and mitigation, of risks facing company personnel, facilities, and operations around the globe. Daily duties include supporting travel security and assessing geopolitical and security risks facing the company, as well as tasks from other segments of the business, with a healthy dose of responding to emerging events or terrorist attacks. Questions that don’t have a clear answer wind up on our desks. A major challenge for the private sector analyst is providing solutions that enable business to be conducted. Some risks could be easily eliminated or mitigated by simply declaring an area off-limits, but the requirements of business—or research, or international aid—rarely allow for such a simple solution. Instead, we strive to offer solutions that allows operations to continue without exposing the organization or its people to undue risk.
Sources – Your Network is Invaluable
One constant from government to the private sector is reading and writing. Another is the value of a network of contacts. Despite what the movies depict, most intelligence analysts are keyboard warriors, spending large chunks of their days researching and writing assessments and briefs. Risk intelligence analysts largely consume open source information, news media, and vendor curated information. Just as important, they interact with counterparts across industry, government personnel, and, when appropriate, leaders within the business. In my experience, these relationships are invaluable. Although vendors or government sources often have excellent information, even richer information will come from people on the ground or from talking through a difficult situation with someone who has faced similar challenges. Distilling this information into a written product that adds value or raises awareness of potential risks—before they become real problems—is a core mission of the risk intelligence analyst. Written products can vary greatly by organization. Some teams may have a regular recurring product line supplemented by special requests while others may purely react to questions from the business. Perhaps the greatest opportunity for a risk intelligence team is to anticipate questions and have a written product available for leaders before they can ask for it.
BLUF is Essential
Like government and military leaders, senior executives do not have time to read 30-page reports on the latest developments in a country or region. Providing the bottom line, up front (BLUF)—why does this matter to me or to the business?—is key. At SJM, our written products have ranged from 12-15 page comprehensive risk assessments on priority countries to short, one-paragraph assessments on a developing incident. Most of our products -- on topics such as Brexit or the security environment following a major attack -- will be two to three pages at most. Incident notifications and post-event assessments will also be posted on our internal travel security pages for use by future travelers. For executive, high-risk, or complicated travel, we prepare tailored travel briefs with safety and security information, specific guidance, and practical travel information. But whatever the format, providing answers to the ‘so what?’ questions the CEO or business units may have allows them to make strategic decisions. Additionally, in crisis events, being able to quickly provide insight and nuanced assessment of impacts to the business can provide leaders with a major advantage as they consider employee and company safety and shape the company’s response to disruptive, dynamic global events.
Sam Talbott is a Global Intelligence Analyst for St. Jude Medical, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Prior to joining St. Jude in May of 2015, he spent nearly four years as a political/military intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency at US Central Command. While at CENTCOM he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and served on the command briefing team, presenting daily intelligence and operational updates to the CENTCOM command staff. Before working in intelligence, Sam traveled widely while working in business development for a major educational assessment organization. He is Vice Chair of the Midwest Regional Analyst Roundtable (MRAR) and an AIRIP member.