CI – Competitive Intelligence
Competitive intelligence (CI) has something of an image problem. The term conjures up an image of elicit activities involving private detectives, telephoto lenses and hidden microphones. While such images are not completely unappealing, they are far removed from the truth. Put simply, CI is a structured, ethical and legal process designed to gather, analyze and distribute data/information relating to current and potential competitors. The key to successful CI is the ability to turn basic raw data into actionable intelligence. Actionable intelligence involves providing decision makers with timely, appropriate information which facilitates action. Additionally, CI stresses the need to protect business activities against competitors’ intelligence gathering operations.
The need for CI has always been recognized. Indeed, Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, written in China over 2000 years ago, makes many references to CI.
Know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.
(Sun Tzu ‘The Art of War’ 400 BC)
Such reference is equally applicable to today’s business world. Given the established business trends of: (a) globalization (b) rapid technological development and (c) merger and acquisition, CI is likely to be a strategic priority for most organizations. Currently management information tends to fall into two main categories. Firstly, reporting and control information. This monitors what has happened internally within any given period. Secondly, information relating to key performance indicators providing measures of success/failure relative to pre-set benchmarks (e.g. accounting ratios, profit and loss accounts, etc.). Such data is of course necessary, but managers increasingly need to be forward looking. CI serves this purpose.