Ethics Programs and Business Intelligence

Because Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, the Ethical Advocate blog often focuses on news and information related directly to such topics as ethics hotline reporting, ethics communication and training, fraud prevention, and legal and regulatory requirements.

We also recognize that the ethics and compliance landscape is always evolving as the pace of business and technological change increases.  Therefore, it is important to stay alert to issues that are looming on the horizon.

A recent story in Business Intelligence Journal highlights such an issue. In “Managing Ethics in Business Intelligence”, the authors assert that the same business intelligence (BI) technologies and services used to inform decision-making processes (and, one could add, used to understand and interact with customers) also create the need for decisions that resolve ethical ambiguities. “Every BI program needs to intersect with corporate governance,” they say, “to embrace instead of avoid ethical questions.” Governance needs to address: the ways we gather and use data and intelligence and the ways we guide conduct through the use of data and intelligence.

If business intelligence is defined as “competitive intelligence”, then it is already addressed in some organizational codes of conduct. A quick search for the phrase “business intelligence” in corporate codes of conduct found statements like:

We do not attempt to obtain information of or about our competitors in an illegal or unfair way,” and

While it may be good business practice to know as much about your competitors as possible, you may only use legal and ethical methods to gather and use business intelligence.”

These and similar statements treat business intelligence as “competitive intelligence”, and provide guidance for employees on how information about competitors can be acceptably gathered and used.

However, BI has come to mean much more than competitive intelligence. defines BI as “an umbrella term that refers to a variety of software applications used to analyze and organization’s raw data.  BI as a discipline is made up of several related activities; data mining, online analytical processing, querying, and reporting.”

Data about internal operations and employee behavior can be collected and analyzed.  Massive amounts of data about customer behaviors and transactions can also be collected, analyzed, and used to drive business decisions.  Data analytics tools and other software products make it possible for employees throughout an organization to access this data and use it in many different ways.

As is often the case, the technology enabling BI has emerged faster than the ethics-related policies, regulations, and laws.  Such efforts, especially as they relate to personal privacy, are, however, looming.  The Business Intelligence article discusses ten “data ethics principles” it feels must be addressed.  These are informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, security, privacy, accuracy, ownership, honesty, responsibility, and transparency.

How should these principles be addressed in organizational codes of conduct?  How should they be addressed in ethics and compliance programs overall?  How are various industries dealing with them?  Answers to these questions are still emerging.  Ethics and Compliance Officers would serve their organizations well by engaging in this issue.


Mulcahey, Ryan. “Business Intelligence Definition and Solutions,”, (n.d.). (accessed September 7, 2013).

Thomann, James and David Wells. “Managing Ethics in Business Intelligence,” Business Intelligence Journal, Vol. 18, no. 2.