International College Offers Unique Course in Business Intelligence

Move over James Bond. International College Business Administration graduate students are honing their business intelligence sleuthing skills to keep one step ahead of the competition and to defend their own company secrets.

This summer, International College’s MBA graduate program launched “Seminar in Business Intelligence,” an online course designed to explore economic espionage and the methods used to protect an organization’s secrets. Over the last several weeks, students have learned to distinguish the difference between legal intelligence gathering and illegal spying through hands-on assignments. They also learned how to use their investigative analysis to develop competitive strategies.

International College is one of a handful of colleges and universities in the country to offer a stand-alone business intelligence course. Yale University offers the course “Espionage & Economic Intelligence” in its curriculum.

Frederick Nerone, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Business at International College and the course’s instructor, said corporate culture and research showed a need for this course, aptly titled “GEB 6-007.”

“So much of what we do in business involves researching the competition and gaining the advantage over them without them knowing; yet, doing it in a legal manner,” Nerone said. “When students leave this class, they will be able to gather business intelligence that they can integrate into strategic planning to gain the competitive advantage in their market.”

Every week, students are required to turn in competitive analysis reports on a company by using annual reports, 10ks, business file public disclosures, corporate records, financial data, company web sites, court records, tax records, business articles, the Standard & Poor Index and other sources.

MBA graduate student Linda Jackson, 49, of Naples, took the course to help enhance her job as manager of inventory and purchasing for a high tech company and to give her more of an edge.

“This course intrigued me because there is so much corporate espionage in the business world. I always tell my staff how careful they have to be with information because people can be sneaky,” Jackson said. “It’s unbelievable how much I’ve learned from this class. I think it’s very progressive of International College to take a risk and teach a course like this. It’s fun, demanding and challenging.”

As a result of knowledge gained in class, Jerry Brooks, 33, of Cape Coral, has made corporate security recommendations to his company’s management.

“Florida businesses want to know there are people who understand corporate espionage,” Brooks said. “I think it’s phenomenal that International College is one of a few schools in the country that offers courses to train toward corporate needs.”

This popular course, which has a waiting list, also will be offered in Fall, beginning September 9.

Class Facts: A sampling of the assignments includes the investigation into the feasibility of opening a dry cleaning business in Lee County by analyzing independent and chain dry cleaning businesses already in the market, as well as investigating the profit margin of all Wendy’s restaurants in Lee and Collier counties.

For their mid-term project, students were grouped into three teams. Each team acted as a consulting group for a competitor of athletic retail giant, Nike, and generated a competitive strategy report. In addition, students also analyzed Nike’s competitors to determine how they were successful or unsuccessful in the market.

“They all did a really good job,” Nerone said, adding that they’ve come a long way in sleuthing skills. “I think this course will up the price of student stock, because they will now have that strategic element which goes beyond superficial competitive analysis. It’s really more like detective work, finding out the who does what to whom and why.”
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