The Effect of Transparency on Business
Craig Bachmann & Natasha Léger are partners in ITF Advisors, LLC, an independent consulting firm with a focus on next-generation strategy and on translating the increasingly complex new media business environment's impact on business models, markets and users.
A transparent world is a frictionless world of information. In this world, almost any piece of information can be connected instantaneously and made visible to the public by various people, ranging from those who are simply curious and bored to those who have a clear mission. Satellite imagery and global transparency relative to government accountability and international security have been discussed for years, including the role of satellite imagery in news reporting.
In addition, satellite imagery in the context of competitive intelligence for businesses has been raised by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals on occasion in the past but has not garnered much attention recently. Our editor Ray Williamson and others have talked about imagery activists since the advent of commercial satellite imagery. Google Earth and other virtual globes have democratized the use of satellite imagery to extend its use to multiple groups, from kids looking for the closest Starbucks and tracking their friends to activist groups exposing corporate misconduct and environmental degradation. Satellite imagery continues to be viewed as the ultimate reconnaissance tool, because it is unrestricted (for the most part) by jurisdiction and national boundaries.
Transparency is a relative term:
- It can mean availability of information, meaning that a company or government agency has invested in acquiring a piece of information, for example, the toxic elements in drinking water.
- It can mean accessibility, meaning that a company or individual can purchase information available from another source, or a taxpayer can request information in the government domain through a Freedom of Information Act request.
- It can mean visibility, meaning that the information is widely distributed and easily understandable, for example through a news broadcast, or interactive map available on Google Earth. A map of data points can convey more visual information than a 20-page detailed report.
- It can mean the ability to take action, meaning to file a petition, engage in a protest, or compile a viral Internet campaign.
What tools enable all four of these elements? The ubiquitous availability of satellite imagery, combined with radical cartography, social networks and multimedia platforms is creating a new source of open intelligence that is not managed by the original creators of the data.
Open Source Intelligence
Traditionally, “intelligence gathering” has been the domain of the military, intelligence agencies, and private investigators. The intelligence community has coined the term open source intelligence (OSINT) to mean a form of intelligence collection management that involves finding, selecting, and acquiring information from publicly available sources and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence. Military, government and private investigators were once responsible for “intelligence.” It is now in the hands of anyone with the ability to do a mashup. Radical Cartography, renovated cartography, neogeography, outlaw cartography, corporate cartography, political cartography, and so on, can be more than disruptive—they can be used to persuade, enlighten, or expose practices that used to be managed behind corporate communication firewalls.
There are no shortages of examples of the use of imagery and mashup to advance environmental and sustainability initiatives. But what about the advance of business? Businesses are just beginning to explore the power of location intelligence for improved performance and decision making. But what has not been discussed is the impact of unmanaged transparency of information on operations, management, marketing, financials and regulatory compliance.
Transparency in Business
What if a mashup of publicly available market data, economic data, transportation routes and imagery provides more insight on the health of a company than the diligently managed 10Ks, 10Qs, 8Ks and financial analyst reports produced by armies of accountants, lawyers, and financial analysts? The financial scandals of the early 2000s, such as Enron, Worldcom and Healthsouth, and today’s financial crisis demonstrate that those carefully produced reports designed to ensure transparency (at least by the Securities Act of 1934) and an efficient financial market could not be trusted. Will new corporate positions emerge, such as the now famililar “Twitter correspondent” and “blogmaster,” for companies to respond to unmanaged transparency?
Traditional maps have been storytellers of moments in history. Today’s interactive maps are no longer mere snapshots, and tomorrow’s maps, which will encompass realtime data feeds from an extensive SensorWeb, will be realtime audits of corporate, government and human activity. Can marketing and communications budgets compete with this realtime storytelling?
What should be the corporate response to material generated by “Radical Cartography” and its ilk? Two of the unplanned offshoots of ubiquitous satellite imagery and web availability are decentralized activism and open source intelligence, supported by imagery. Anyone can now be their own journalist, private investigator, intelligence analyst, and media platform. With imagery freely available and accessible, and when bundled with multi-platform media, companies have a real issue to address. Despite the securities regulations, the financial markets have never been transparent. In fact, profit often times results from “mystery.” What happens in a transparent world?
“The Age of Transparency” is still unfolding, but clearly imagery and GIS have been enlisted as tools to present points of view faster, better, and cheaper than ever before. Don’t be surprised at the mashup as an increasingly powerful corporate and government monitoring tool. We anticipate a variety of corporate responses to yet another digital media onslaught (for example peer-to-peer file sharing, blogs, YouTube). This transparency offers an opportunity for companies to leverage this new age of transparency, and to respond more maturely than the music industry did to Napster. (For those of you who may not recall, Napster was the peer-to-peer file sharing program that led to illegal transferring of music files. The music industry’s response was to sue mostly teenagers and students. After close to five years of this litigious strategy, the music industry decided in December 2008 to stop such lawsuits.)