Competitive intelligence is defined by the Organization of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) as “the legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of business competitors.” SCIP further differentiates CI from espionage since espionage, or spying, uses unethical and illegal means of gathering information while counter-intelligence is defined by SCIP as “the steps an organization takes to protect information sought by hostile intelligence gatherers.”
CI as Part of Strategic Planning
Competitive Intelligence is a necessary part of the strategic planning process since it provides a strong portion of the necessary environmental information necessary to realistically plan a company’s middle to long term activities. As Douglas Bernhardt points out in his book on Competitive Intelligence (Prentice Hall 2003) “strategy without intelligence isn’t strategy, it’s guessing.”
CI Part of Business Intelligence
Competitive Intelligence implies intelligent mining, dissemination, competent analysis and presentation of strategic information that may be related to brands, products, industries, markets and competitors; something that can be practically done from today's available online and offline information sources, as well as business habits and business practices. The whole point of competitive intelligence is too ethically and legally systematically gather information that when pieced together and intelligently analyzed will provide a fuller understanding of a competitor’s organizational structure, corporate culture, morale, behaviours, competencies and capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. The CI function can be a separate and distinct organization in a company or part of the overall strategic planning function and/or organization. It is a well known fact that the vast majority of managers are busy with day to day problem resolution issues or in management nomenclature, “putting out fires.”
This necessarily puts strategic planning on the backburner, and leaves competitive intelligence in the void. As a result, the competitive intelligence function is many times outsourced to specialist firms who have an overall better handle on the information flux generation due to market and environmental dynamics.
CI and Public Information
With the business world in a constant state of flux and in an accelerating, for various reasons, rate of change, competitive intelligence is seen as an increasingly important function for the long term survival of any organization. Indeed the late US Navy Rear Admiral Ellis Zacharias noted that most of the information required to form a complete intelligence profile is available from public information (Edinburgh Business School Marketing Text Chapter 3; Competitive Intelligence). The availability of public information is of such proportion in today’s business world that proper interpretation will undoubtedly minimize business disruption risk due to unforeseeable circumstances (aside from Force Majeure). As Frederic the Great said, “It is pardonable to be defeated, but never to be surprised.”