WikiStrat wants to be your crowd-sourced war nerd
Yesterday, a virtual security and intelligence consultancy called Wikistrat released something it calls RSM– the Regime Stability Model. This new offering provides the company’s clients – which include the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Africa Command, the U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Navy and Air Force, the French Air Force, British Royal Air Force, and NATO Allied Command –with continuous monitoring of the viability of any given country’s current government.
History buffs will recall that the very Internet was first a Department of Defense project to connect central command with its far-flung network of agents. Born of this initial seed, Wikistrat – the product of one Israeli and two Australian founders – has managed to sell a similar vision back to the parent organization, wrapped in new paper. The company bills itself as “crowdsourced consulting.”
The crowd in this case is WikiStrat’s curated cadre of 2,000 experts, composed of some 370 PhD’s, 385 professors, 200 think-tank fellows, 250 executives, 90 former military officers, 50 former diplomats and at least 10 former ambassadors, working in tandem with the company’s 47 employees.
Hershkovitz notes that the value of WikiStrat compared to traditional strategic analysis is that it’s “quicker, faster, and more complex.”
He says the company initially sought to provide its services to existing consultancies as a platform. “The reply we got was, this is amazing but we cannot use it because it is too novel, it is generations ahead, something we might use several years from now. And then we thought, if this is the case, and they are so impressed by the platform, but they can’t implement because they are not agile enough, we might as well do the analysis ourselves. This is the tipping point where we transferred from providing a platform to providing analysis and becoming consultants ourselves.”
Hershkovitz, based in Tel Aviv, pointed out that this doesn’t preclude WikiStrat from working with conventional consultancies.
“Deloitte is a partner, we provide components that are integrated in their services. It’s not so much a competition, it is a ground for cooperation,” he said.
The company maintains various internal projects, in the course of which its volunteer analysts opine on given topics and are assigned a rank based on how well they articulate their arguments and defend them against challenges. High-performers receive cash prizes and are invited to participate in client-requested projects.
For client-based projects, compensation is agreed to up front, and the crowd analysis is overseen by in-house staff consisting of supervisors – specially trained former high-performing crowd members – lead analysts – experts in certain broad fields – and even more specialized deputies. This process yields an encyclopedic knowledge base which WikiStrat staff synthesize and condense into 30-100 page reports. The client can anonymously participate in the process and has access to full knowledge yield as well as the final report and suggested plans of action.
Hershkovitz said this not only allows clients to obtain strategic analysis much faster – weeks rather than months – and at roughly one third the price of traditional consulting operations, but, due to the breadth of the expert pool, “allows us to overcome biases.”
“We can get as objective as possible an analysis, get away from the subjective cant of groupthink. If you take a certain strategic analysis entity, they tend to work in silos, they put ten or so experts relying on the same sources of information, brainstorming same issue. We basically depart from this model.”
In its six years of operations, Hershkovitz said, the firm has been able to provide many prescient predictions to its clients, though most of these remain confidential. Some of them are deemed fit for public consumption. WikiStrat predicted the Russian annexation of Crimea months in advance, and more recently foresaw that Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP party would garner enough votes to deny the Taccip Erdogan continued one-party rule in the election last winter.
Due to confidentiality agreements, other successes remain more cryptic.
“We were able to predict ISIS’ next targets in the Middle East, in a project conducted for a specific client interested in ISIS activity in a specific country. Also the locations of riots and social unrest against a certain regime, and a certain regime’s intention to devalue its currency,” Hershkovitz said.
In addition to the crowd-sourced analysis, Hershkovitz said that the company tracks a broad set of indicator data and uses a proprietary algorithm to weight these data for relevance to a given question. He also said that company has expanded its clientele to include multinationals in addition to the government entities that are the firm’s bread and butter.
An examination of the comments on employer review site Glassdoor reveals that at least some unpaid analysts resent the unpaid labor they’ve provided for the company’s internal analyses, but according to Hershkovitz these quibbles miss the point.
“There is no contradiction between the two sets of motivation of keeping our clients and our crowd of experts happy. The client wants actionable deliverables, and the community of experts wants a virtual gathering venue in which to present their ideas. Generally, they have a day job, and we are not a primary source of income but a nice additional source. Their primary motivation is intellectual.”
While Hershkovitz is confident that WikiStrat is bringing a unique product to a hidebound marketplace, he stopped short of proclaiming the oracular wisdom of the elite, expert crowd.
“It’s not a crystal ball, nobody can predict the future. If someone tells you that, he is a charlatan. But having said that, there are proven examples where we are able to predict strategic, tactical issues.”