Can Web Intelligence Really Drive Better Business Decisions?

Posted: 6th November 2013

Editor’s Note

The following interview is with Bob Gourley and is from our Web Intelligence Perspectives Series. Bob is currently the publisher of and is the founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm.

What is it about Web intelligence that is such an important opportunity to you?

Web intelligence brings new opportunities regarding all-source analysis. Now organizations can leverage more data from more sources. And they can do that in ways conducive to making rapid, more accurate assessments. Organizations can also leverage their own internal data stores and information sources.

The result: better assessments that can drive better decisions.

What drives the interest in Web intelligence in your community? What hole in your world does it fill?

My formative years as a professional were spent as an operational intelligence officer. My core duty was to understand and tell others what the Soviet navy was doing, including Soviet naval operations very close to their ports. I had at my disposal information from just about every information source available, including satellite imagery, reports from agents, sensitive intercepted messages, reports from our fleet, reports from aircraft, reports from allies, and even open source press reports.

We also had access to vast amounts of historical information and environmental data.

One thing all of us in that role would learn early on is no single source of information could be trusted. Success required leveraging all sources of information. Analysis based on a single source of information had a very high likelihood of being wrong.

The all-source intelligence fusion and assessment lessons from my early career have modern analogs in today’s operational intelligence centers and in multiple sectors of industry. When assessments have to be made on dynamic situations you want multiple sources of information presented in ways that lets you consider them all at once. If you don’t use all-source information you are not going to get at the truth.

However, today’s analysts face challenges I never imagined as a young intelligence professional.

The amount of data to analyze is absolutely incomprehensible by humans, and the need to correlate, compare, and cross reference across data sets has become a challenge only computers can handle.

Today’s critical insights are all coming from systems that let humans interact with very savvy computers.

What does a critical insight from Web intelligence look like? In the intelligence and national security domain, Web intelligence holds the promise of helping decision makers better anticipate trouble spots and take action before hand to mitigate a crisis. Failure to do this always makes headlines. Success in this almost never does.

Insights from Web intelligence are also critical to anticipating the course of technological development. This is important in the national security space for two broad reasons:

  1. It helps avoid technological surprise.
  • It helps inform our own decision-making regarding technology.
  • What is your vision for how Web intelligence could be used? The greatest potential for Web intelligence in the national security space is in bringing information and assessments from the entire Web together with the secure holdings and classified data sources of our national security community. By melding together the classified and unclassified domains our national security analysts can more quickly assess the nature of developing situations and better inform policy makers and operational military decision makers.

    Looking ahead, will Web intelligence become a standard piece of tradecraft in your community? Will it “go viral”?

    The national security community has always been quick to study new methods and new information sources and I have no doubt they will be moving quick to leverage all sources of information they can. They are also always seeking to study what industry is doing so lessons can be learned there and I see a great opportunity for both industry and government in this new domain of Web intelligence.

    Bob Gourley

    Bob Gourley is the publisher of and is the founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm. Bob’s first career was as a naval intelligence officer, which included operational tours in Europe and Asia. Bob was the first Director of Intelligence (J2) at DoD’s cyber defense organization JTF-CND. Also, he was named one of the top 25 most influential CTOs in the globe by Infoworld in 2007, and selected for AFCEAs award for meritorious service to the intelligence community in 2008.