7 Keys to Selecting the Best Corporate Intelligence Firm
When you need to conduct a corporate investigation or gather intelligence in order to make a strategic business decision, you need to know that you are relying on complete and accurate information. There is no tolerance for uncertainty, and there is no room for error. If the information gathered is anything less than comprehensive, you will not have the insights you need; and, while you could get lucky, what was supposed to be an informed decision could end up doing more harm than good.
With this in mind, when you need to make an informed decision on a matter with significant business implications, you need to rely on the advice of experienced investigators and advisors. In short, your choice of corporate intelligence firms matters. So, how do you choose? Here are seven key factors to consider:
1. Professional Background and Corporate Intelligence Experience
While you are choosing a corporate intelligence firm, it is ultimately the people you choose that matter most. It is the firm’s personnel who will be investigating, gathering intelligence, and providing advice, so you need to know that these individuals have the background and experience required in order to assist your company effectively.
In most cases, companies will benefit greatly from choosing a corporate intelligence firm that employs former federal investigative agents—and ideally former federal investigative agents who spent decades in civil service. This includes not only former agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but former agents with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and subject matter-specific agencies and departments such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Working within these agencies in an investigative capacity offers extensive training and high-level experience, and this experience will often translate directly to the corporate intelligence sector.
Of course, there are differences between conducting a government investigation and proactively gathering corporate intelligence, so experience in the private sector is an important consideration as well. When choosing a corporate intelligence firm, you should feel free to inquire about the public and private experience of each of the individuals who will be assisting your company. There are plenty of corporate intelligence firms out there—some of which offer far more experience than others—and you should look until you find a firm with personnel who you believe have the knowledge and capabilities required to meet your company’s needs.
2. Experience in Your Company’s Specific Area of Need
In addition to general investigative and intelligence-gathering experience, it is also important to choose a firm with personnel who have experience in your company’s specific area of need. For example, conducting a routine compliance audit is a very different matter from investigating an employee’s allegations of harassment or discrimination. Likewise, investigating a possible data security breach is wholly unlike conducting an internal investigation in response to a federal target letter, civil investigative demand (CID), or subpoena.
Different investigative and intelligence-gathering needs call for different procedures, the implementation of different policies, and the utilization of different skill sets. As a result, when looking for a corporate intelligence firm, it is important to focus not only on experience in general, but experience in similar and related scenarios as well.
3. State-of-the-Art Technological Resources
In today’s world, the extraordinary amount of data that companies generate and utilize on a day-to-day basis adds a layer of complexity to corporate investigations that did not exist 20 years ago. When gathering data, it is necessary to rely on state-of-the-art technological resources that ensure both (i) comprehensive data gathering, and (ii) industry-standard (or better) data security. If any data or (any data resources) get overlooked, then not only could the investigation fail to provide necessary intelligence, but it could also potentially expose the company to greater risk as the result of failing to uncover a possible litigation threat or defense strategy.
A corporate intelligence firm should be able to quickly and seamlessly connect its technological resources with your company’s IT platform, and its personnel should be able to work with the senior members of your company’s IT department to quickly implement a systematic and effective data collection plan. Your company’s corporate intelligence firm should be able to work directly with your company’s IT, data storage, and data security vendors as well—all while maintaining strict confidentiality and absolutely preserving the integrity of your company’s sensitive and proprietary data.
4. Nationwide Capabilities
In many cases, it is difficult to tell exactly where a corporate investigation will lead. While some intelligence-gathering efforts (i.e. compliance audits) will remain entirely internal affairs, investigations spurred by government inquiries, third-party allegations, and possible data security breaches can lead to additional investigative needs and the potential for litigation across the country (if not around the world). As a result, when choosing a corporate intelligence firm, it is important to choose a firm that has nationwide capabilities. It should have sufficient personnel and technological resources to follow your company’s investigation wherever it may lead, and it should have a track record of efficiently handling corporate investigations on a nationwide scale.
Additionally, COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that many companies do business. In some cases, these changes are likely to be permanent. In particular, the substantially increased prevalence of remote working and service delivery are likely here to stay. Not only does this mean that there will be additional challenges during the corporate investigative process, but it means that data (and paper files) will be spread across a much broader geographic area as well. This makes it imperative to choose a corporate intelligence firm with the capabilities required to quickly and effectively gather data, conduct interviews, and undertake other necessary investigative measures wherever it may be necessary to do so.
5. Preservation of the Attorney-Client Privilege
When preparing for a corporate investigation, it is important not to overlook the critical importance of preserving the attorney-client privilege. Without establishing the attorney-client privilege and ensuring that it covers the entirety of the investigation, any and all information uncovered through the investigative process could potentially become subject to disclosure during a government investigation or through discovery in civil litigation.
“When conducting a corporate investigation, it is imperative to preserve the attorney-client privilege. If your corporate intelligence firm is not able to do so, then the government or any counterparties in civil litigation may be entitled to access the data obtained during – and the records generated as the work product of – the investigation.” – Attorney Nick Oberheiden, Ph.D., Founder of Oberheiden P.C.
While some corporate intelligence firms work in conjunction with independent law firms, others utilize the services of in-house lawyers. The latter model not only streamlines the process and ensures that all individuals who are working on the investigation are able to efficiently work together, but it can also substantially reduce the costs involved. By engaging a corporate intelligence firm that can handle all aspects of your company’s investigative needs while also preserving the attorney-client privilege, you can ensure that your company is protecting its legal and financial interests to the fullest extent possible.
6. Relevant Subject Matter Knowledge
Earlier, we noted the importance of choosing a corporate intelligence firm with personnel who have specific experience with the type of inquiry that your company needs to conduct (i.e. a compliance audit, data security breach assessment, or pre-litigation internal investigation). In addition, it is important to choose a firm with personnel who have relevant subject matter as well. From data security to federal securities and antitrust law compliance, corporate intelligence needs can pertain to an extremely broad range of issues, and it is essential that the investigators and advisors working with your company are well-versed in the substantive issues at hand.
7. Support and Insights Beyond the Investigation
Finally, when choosing a corporate intelligence firm, you need to choose a firm that can provide support and insights beyond your company’s immediate investigative needs. Based on the intelligence that has been gathered (or that is likely to be gathered), what are your company’s next steps? If your company is facing a federal investigation or a potential lawsuit, what defensive measures are necessary, and how does this inform the investigative process? If the investigation reveals shortcomings in your company’s compliance policies and procedures, what additions or modifications are necessary? Depending upon the circumstances at hand, these are just a few of the numerous critical questions that may need to be answered.
When choosing a corporate intelligence firm, it is imperative to look beyond the firm’s investigative and intelligence-gathering capabilities to its ability to advise your company based upon the intelligence it gathers. The broader the firm’s capabilities – and the broader its investigators’, consultants’, and attorneys’ experience and subject matter knowledge – the more your company will be able to get out of the engagement. When a corporate investigation is necessary, cutting corners is not an option, and choosing a firm that cannot follow through on the intelligence it gathers can be a costly mistake.