A Case Study on Perceived Usefulness of Open Source Information in Arabic Language in Countries of Interest for an Organization
Abstract: The Case Study assesses the method by which theoretical concepts associated with collection and use of information on competition may be put into practice so as to enable the beneficiary organization having interests in countries in the MENA region# get advantage of the best business intelligence services provided based on open sources# available in Arabic language for top management decision-making.
This study aimed to follow a three-month long evolution of a crisis in an organization reflected in the Arabic mass media in a country in which an organization has business interests. Articles and reviews making references to the analyzed crisis have been translated and analyzed. The materials were assessed and summarized and then the organization was provided with two information newsletters on this topic.
After disseminating and discussing the content of informative newsletters within an organization, we asked its decision makers to fill out a feedback questionnaire and later in-depth interviews were held with the members of the board of directors aimed to establish the perceived usefulness of business intelligence for strategic decision-making.
The study conclusions emphasize that business intelligence products obtained from open sources in Arabic language in countries where organizations have business interests may contribute to a great extent to supporting strategic decision-making. Also, the costs of obtaining this type of information are quite high as a huge amount of information must be translated and then analyzed and summarized. These activities require the use of qualified and experienced personnel.
Keywords: Business Decision-making, Competitive Intelligence, Information Management, Knowledge Management, Organizational Intelligence.
Global competitiveness, dissolution of monopolies, development of information technology and communications, including mobile technology, decrease in the price of IT equipment, expansion of social networks, global circulation of knowledge and ideas (from private, academic and institutional areas) and the economic crisis have generated significant changes both in the behavior of consumers and companies.
Speed of information generation and transmission is greater, the volume of transferred data has increased tremendously and subscription prices for internet and data services have been lowered; the Internet have already made a huge impact on the „global village” of McLuhan.
According to Internet World State, as of mid-2016 more than half of the world population, 89% in North America and 73.9% in Europe had access to the Internet. The same source reports that 56.3% of Romanian population had access to Internet as of November 30, 2015. The growth rate of internet users has increased tremendously since 2000: 485.2% in Europe, 1515.2% 7448.8% in Asia and Africa.
In this context, the exponential growth in supply of information increases the need to identify on time business opportunities and make appropriate decisions. We are facing a real informational „flood” due to „explosion” of open sources and fluctuations in the new security environment. This „informational overload“ tends to redirect the efforts from searching information to refining the tools for its interpretation.“ (Niţu I., 2011)
Nowadays, managers cannot limit themselves to collecting information from newspapers and other sources of information if they want to constantly be informed on what the competition does and how. Key information collected for the use of the general director) for example: what are the risks and threats faced by the company, what are the main latest operations of competing companies) should be included into the information sheet made by personnel and bodies specialized in gathering, checking and processing information. (Obreja C., Rusu C, 2009)
Business intelligence community in the US recognized long time ago the potential of open source information and took specific measures for collecting and using information from this type of sources. The programs using open source information were extended and improved over time due to a constantly changing environment. Compared to traditional or secret tools, open source information could be collected more quickly, cheaper and more efficiently and could be more reliable. It was estimated that in the year 1957 between 75 and 90% of economic, scientific and geographic information obtained by CIA in the former Soviet bloc were based on analyzing open sources of information. Electronic and photographic tools may have reduced the percentage especially in the two last categories but the real contribution of open sources to collecting information is still extremely high.
The main challenge for open source information analyst is to identify quickly relevant information and to transform it into summaries and translations. This aspect enables some users to get more benefits than others from the use of open sources.
Considering the increase in the volume of data and operations needed to collect the, Croom stated back in 1969 that using automatic recording methods would become mandatory in the future and management and use of all open source information should be done centrally by an agency that could operate openly working for the nation as a whole including the intelligence community. Such an agency could operate more efficiently and with less cost using a single, flexible and automatic system for data processing and it could provide flexibility and coverage by using contractors.
The authors of this study started from the perspective of such a contractor; they started from a hypothesis that there was an order for information placed by a large organization in Romania having interests in a country from the MENA region. The decision-makers of such an organization were interested in intelligence products aimed to support their decision-making that should have been obtained from open sources of the region available in the Arabic language referring to a critical situation for the organization.
Generally, methods are viewed as scientific as they are based on empirical evidence that can be observed (directly or indirectly) and measured. The data should be subject to principles of logic and be repeatable.
Scientific methods of inquiry are based on problem formulation, data collection, analysis (including hypothesis testing) and dissemination.
Even though research in the area of competitive intelligence differs from other areas of scientific inquiry, the principles of scientific research remain the same. As in other areas, information analysts present hypotheses and research methods aimed to explain phenomena of the real world. The objectivity of employed methods is another important feature of scientific research.
In academic areas, such as sociology, psychology, history, political science and economics, the results are disseminated in academic journals and special conferences. So, knowledge is cumulative and all research community benefits from the results of research and at the same time peers may critique methods and interpretations used in a study to control its quality by means of peer review.
It is difficult to implement in case of research in the area of business intelligence as these results are often confidential.
While business intelligence quantitative research is based on the observations of made by the analyst that may be measured by a measurement tool, qualitative research may broaden the knowledge and suggest causal explanations. In this case, the analyst should collect data in an unstructured way, without using standardized or limiting questionnaires (“boxes to check.”)
Even though some qualitative research may use a set of uniform questions, the answers are not structured as in quantitative research. In business intelligence qualitative research, data are collected by direct or indirect observation using journals, magazines, interviews or focus groups, etc. Sources of secondary data are numerous; documents being available in a multitude of forms. In business intelligence research, qualitative data may also be used for a pilot study or to develop a theory (e.g., grounded theory research) that could later be tested using quantitative data. (Prunckun, 2010 p. 55)
„Case studies are studies of single issues or problems and can be manifested in a person, a group, an incident, or an event. It is a systemic way of examining a problem extending beyond the use of a limited number of variables by providing an in-depth investigation into the target phenomena. Case studies can be single or multiple cases and need not be solely qualitative. Instead, they can use a quantitative paradigm or a mixed approach.“ (Prunckun, 2010 p. 57)
In-depth interview is similar to a focus group but includes only one or two respondents. Even if an in-depth interview has an unstructured format, the analyst will formulate a set of open questions to open the discussion needed to obtain data for answering the research question. In-depth interviews are appropriate if research involves sensitive, confidential or even classified issues. This is the reason why the required information makes the group format be inadequate. (Prunckun, 2010 p. 58)
- Overview of Researched Organization
The organization for which the research was conducted is a large Romanian entity that has 1250 employees with an annual income exceeding 33,37 million €. It has business interests in the MENA region.
For this reason, based on the working hypothesis, the decision makers of the organization were interested in receiving intelligence products from open sources in the region in order to support the decisions of top management.
- Research description
During a period of three months, the evolution of a critical situation for the organization was monitored in the press in a country in which the organization has special interests. All online open source information making reference to the situation was studied. Then, both the articles and the comments making reference to the situation were translated. The obtained materials were analyzed, summarized and then two information sheets covering the topic were delivered to the organization.
After disseminating and discussing the content of the information sheets within the organization, its decision makers were asked to complete a feedback questionnaire and the in-depth interviews were held with the members of the board of directors in order to establish the perceived usefulness of competitive intelligence in the process of strategic decision-making.
To identify the way in which the organization relates to competitive intelligence (especially information on competitors and market coming from open or official sources supporting managers in their decision making, the perception of the general manager were assessed by means of a questionnaire.
- Research outcomes
The questionnaire completed by the general manager on the way the organization relates to completive business intelligence showed that the organization ha slow orientation towards business intelligence.
Even if the management of the organization felt the need to be informed in the process of decision-making related to competitors and the information on macro-environment, technological innovation, competition, clients was viewed as extremely important for the organization, this type of data were searched and obtained to a very low extent at the date of when the study was carried out
In what regards methods of obtaining data from online sources, we discovered that online publications (newspapers, magazines, studies, articles) were the main source of information. The organization was not using blogs or social networks for obtaining business information.
On the date of this research, intelligence capacity (capacity to obtain information from the competitive environment) of the organization was viewed by the general manager as basic, being sometimes forced to get personally involved in collecting and analyzing information.
The management of the organization agreed that the open source information improve significantly the efficiency of the organization (e.g.: the information obtained from mass media, the Internet, research journals, patents, conferences, etc.).
By analyzing the feedback questionnaires and the in-depth interviews with the management of the organization on received information sheets, their form, content and utility were discovered.
So, the expectations of the Board of Directors on the information sheets were matched to a great extent or even were exceeded for some members of the board.
Regarding the relevance of informational content included into information sheets, the majority of the board members viewed it as being relevant. The relevance is reflected by the effect the information produces on its user, the extent to which it meets the expectation of users in their decision-making.
Graphic format of information sheets, type A4 brochures, paginated in two columns, included text and relevant photos on the subject was well-received and easy to read.
The information presented in the information sheets was generally easy to understand by all members of the board of directors. It was discussed that the language should be simple to make the information usable, clear, concise and readable by those who need it and are authorized to get access to it. It should be noted that often people appointed to know and access this information lack training in the field of business intelligence. Also, we should take into account that some information useful for one level of management may be too general or too detailed for another level of management.
The information included into information sheets was generally viewed as relevant to support decision-making in the organization. The interviewed members of the board of directors reported that the information sheets provided them new elements related to the analyzed situation without containing unimportant or meaningless aspects.
The information included in the information sheets initially influenced to a lower extent the decision-making of management. The interviewed subjects stated that the information should be complete, include enough data in order to influence alone the decision-making process. To meet the need of the management, be complete and 100% secure, it is important that the information reflected a detailed picture of the analyzed event to enable it to support the top management make correct decisions and plan efficiently the organization’s response and operations.
Taking into account that the information sheets could contain sensitive organization for the organization, the members of the board of directors generally agreed that such materials should be confidential. The discussions showed that the access to such information sheets should be allowed to people based on their position in the organization and upon the approval received from senior management by observing the principle „need to be informed“.
The members of the board of directors mostly think that such information sheets should be disseminated just to top management. The discussions also revealed that the transmission of confidential information to other people in the organization should be allowed only if they are authorized to have access to such information. The transmission of this type of information outside the organization should be authorized by the general manager or the delegated personnel. Also, it should be noted that the authorization access given to people, whose behavior, attitude or manifestations could impact the security of confidential information, should be immediately withdrawn.
The information sheets contained also the elements of novelty. Generally, the members of the organization knew the situation quite well. The new information compared the pre-existing one included the way the information about the organization, independently from what happens actually in the organization, was received and impacted the target environment from the countries in the MENA region. We identified the main means of spreading key information referring to facts, phenomena, events that could have become threats or sources of risk for the organization.
To be able to supply relevant information, in a concise manner and easy to understand, the members of the board of directors to a great extent viewed that it would be useful that the information sheets contained a summary with the most relevant elements for the organization.
Most members of the board of directors thought that it would be useful that they were able to ask that such information sheets be made to support their strategic decision-making. They were interested in the possibility to be able to ask for such information sheets that would contain data on changes on the market or in the operations of their competitors.
Respondents believe that in a situation of crisis such information sheets would be extremely useful and that they would want to get them periodically. They viewed as beneficial in the future to have permanent monitoring and get early warnings on a set of external indices and indicators (economic and financial, social, political, transnational and informational describing situations with a potential of risk or opportunity for the organization’s goals and strategy. Benchmarking studies conducted to investigate and understand the best practices and working methods used by the competition in order to adopt them in your own operations as to increase efficiency were also viewed as important.
The information presented in the information sheets were considered by the members of the board of directors as being very reliable.
Most members of the board of directors gave high reliability to the content of information presented in the information sheets which means that the information was acknowledged also by other independent sources and previous knowledge. Only one person gave relative reliability to the content of the information sheet, the content being acknowledged also by other independent sources and just partially by previous knowledge. The informational content was not rejected also by other independent sources and previous knowledge of respondents.
The information presented in the information sheets were considered conclusive by the members of the board. The information provided in the information sheets contained enough elements describing the event and the operation in a specific context.
The layout of the information sheets was reported to be good or excellent and the volume of the delivered information was also viewed as being good. Respondents described the information contained in the information sheets as being useful, high quality, valuable, practical and important. A slightly lower score was recorded for relevance and reliability of the provided information.
The top management of the organization often felt the need to have access to information on competition for their decision-making process. Nevertheless, the organization had a low orientation towards business intelligence and its capacity to obtain information from the competitive environment was very limited as its managers lacked experience and skills in this area.
Intelligence products obtained from open sources in the Arabic language in the countries where the organizations have special interests may greatly contribute to supporting strategic decision-making.
If the leadership of an organization lacks an adequate business intelligence culture, it may have a tendency to give high credibility to content of information sheets. Therefore, it is important that the analyst presented correct the limitations of obtaining information only from open sources due to limited possibility to check their accuracy. To increase the value of the information, it is important that business intelligence products be obtained legally sing all sources specific to business intelligence.
As there are so many theoretical approaches, the study is important as it showed in practice how a business intelligence product could be made covering organization’s needs and contributing significantly to supporting strategic management decisions. Also, the experience of the authors was enriched by practical knowledge needed to produce intelligence products from open sources in the Arabic languages in the countries of the MENA region that may be used and adopted for specific contexts, for sources available in Russian, Ukrainian, etc. in less accessible areas but where organizations have business interests or provide humanitarian aid.
Also, such operations may be required by organizations having solid financial means as costs for obtaining this type of information may be high amounting to thousands of Euro. Huge volume of information should be translated and then summarized and analyzed. These operations require the use of qualified personnel having experience in collecting, storing and analyzing business information.
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* Cristian Obreja, PhD, Economics and Business Administration Faculty, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi, Romania, firstname.lastname@example.org
** Gabriel Cucuteanu, PhD, Doctoral School of Economics and Business Administration, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi, Romania, email@example.com
# Unclassified information deliberately searched selected, filtered and disseminated for a specific audience to meet a specific demand. EX: mass-media, Internet, research journas, patents, conferences, etc.
1 Middle East and North Africa