Intelligence vs information vs insights: Know the difference

At the very least, this knowledge will prevent you from making deadly mistakes in your business. At best, you'll retain and grow your customer base beyond what you are likely to have thought possible.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor on

I met Ford Galvin at a SEAT Conference about four years ago when he was with the LA Rams.  He was clearly an up-and-coming thinker and doer -- the kind of person involved in sports that makes you realize, if he stays there, sports is in good hands.  Now, Ford is in an even more strategic spot as the senior director of business innovation with Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE).

What I love about this guy is his ability to synthesize difficult concepts or complex ideas and make them understandable to his audience. He's applied this skill/talent a not only to ideas but to real-world projects. For example: He managed to impress on the Rams the need to use Data and Business Intelligence in their day-to-day business life. He also applied this very same skill/talent to moving the Rams from St. Louis back to where they belong: (my editorial comment) Los Angeles.  A totally different task. 

What he does here is worth reading because he is able to untangle the differences and the relationships among intelligence, information and insights.  In this first in a series of short posts, he sets the framework. The next post will go through how to apply this knowledge.

Okay, Ford, kick it off. 

If you're like me, you have been reading articles and opinions on what the shape of the business world will look like after the pandemic. There are many pieces telling us to use intelligence, insights, information, data, AI, and machine learning—urging us to become organizations that make data-driven decisions.

When I took my first job in the NFL, "data-driven decision-making" was a brand trait posted on our marketing room wall. Alliteration aside, I think the idea is strong, but becomes lost to leaders when they try to create an action plan around the concept.

There are many abstract terms and business world buzz words, but effective leaders know how to translate these concepts into practical actions. And even though data, intelligence, knowledge, insights, and information may seem synonymous, they are actually very different. Whether you are a business intelligence analyst, a department head, or an organizational leader, you likely are  trying to figure out how to use intelligence. To help you build a plan to put these concepts into effective action, let's first take a deeper dive into the terms you've been reading about.

Up first, intelligence

Intelligence is the process that delivers a product that is derived from information. Intelligence is not data or information. This is an important distinction. Although intelligence is derived from information, and the terms share many of the same attributes, intelligence is the product of analyzed and synthesized information creating insights. As well, intelligence can evolve as new information is acquired.

So, if information is not intelligence, then what is it? Information is your data. Information across a company can reside in many databases and other forms, such as your order system, CRM, website, or customer surveys. Information is the specific data that comes from one source. It is sometimes confusing and often contradictory and complex. Depending on the source, it can also be incomplete. Intelligence is the product of combining this information to create something greater than the sum of its parts: insights.

But remember, insights are estimates rather than certainties. Insights create a picture or multiple pictures of what we estimate to happen based on the available information. As machine learning and AI become more available, the margin of error in our estimations shrinks; but outliers will always remain. Consider your sales forecasts. You collect information from your CRM, talk to your sales reps, and synthesize this information to create a sales projection. This is an estimation of how much revenue your team will generate in the future. If that number is low, hopefully you have a plan to take some effective action. Data-driven decision-making means taking action based on intelligence and the insights it creates.

Let's look at a simple example. Imagine today is your first day on the job and at the end of the day you receive an email with the day's sales numbers -- that's all. The single day sales numbers are information. By itself, these numbers are not very valuable. You would immediately begin asking yourself questions. How does today compare to yesterday, last month, last year? Are we trending towards or away from forecasts or goals? Posing these questions to your staff starts the intelligence process. Recall: Intelligence is a process, not a result. You are asking them to provide related information thus creating insights. Insights are the answers to your questions. Now, you use these insights to create action that will affect your sales numbers.

Your intelligence group has been given the difficult task of using the available information to create outcomes. This task can cause a group to become overwhelmed, misinterpreting information as intelligence and skipping the much-needed analysis stage. Or they may not have the skill set in their group. But transforming information into insights is the value all the articles are referring to. It is important to understand where you lie in this process of creating intelligence.

Finally, intelligence for intelligence's sake is useless and a waste of time. Intelligence that is not acted upon or that does not provide the potential for future action is futile. But how do you know what to act upon and how do you know where you lie in the process of creating intelligence? The answers to these questions will be my next post.

Can't wait to see what he's got coming next. Pay attention to this young man. We'll be hearing more from him - a lot more I suspect. 


  1. CRM Watchlist 2022 registration remains open for two more months. Email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com and ask me about the competition for the industry award, now in its 16th (I think - could be a year more or less) year.  Here's a link to a post on it that will tell you all you need to know. And a link to this year's announcement.  
  2. CRM Playaz has a great panel coming on Corporate Social Responsibility and all its aspects on July 1 at 1:30pm EDT. Stay tuned here and throughout the social-sphere for details. It will be a LinkedIn Live Event. Be ready.  
  3. My new show, "Engaged...with Paul Greenberg" will launch the week of July 5 the exact time and date still TBD. It is, let's say nothing like any show you've ever seen in the industry.  Think not interview moderator host. But late night talk show and not all business. Think broadcast, not live stream. Think...well, just think. And it will be fun. That I promise. Stay tuned here and across social channels. 

That's it. See ya next week!! Or the week after. Or...well, see ya!! 

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