DEFINITION: Competitive Intelligence
Competitive intelligence (CI) is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors, and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers in strategic decision making for an organization.
CI means understanding and learning what is happening in the world outside the business to increase one’s competitivity. It means learning as much as possible, as soon as possible, about one’s external environment including one’s industry in general and relevant competitors.
- Competitive intelligence is a legal business practice, as opposed to industrial espionage, which is illegal.
- The focus is on the external business environment.
- There is a process involved in gathering information, converting it into intelligence and then using it in decision making. Some CI professionals erroneously emphasise that if the intelligence gathered is not usable or actionable, it is not intelligence.
Another definition of CI regards it as the organizational function responsible for the early identification of risks and opportunities in the market before they become obvious (“early signal analysis”). This definition focuses attention on the difference between dissemination of widely available factual information (such as market statistics, financial reports, newspaper clippings) performed by functions such as libraries and information centers, and competitive intelligence which is a perspective on developments and events aimed at yielding a competitive edge.
The term CI is often viewed as synonymous with competitor analysis, but competitive intelligence is more than analyzing competitors; it embraces the entire environment and stakeholders: customers, competitors, distributors, technologies, and macroeconomic data.
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