Competitive intelligence (CI) is the action of defining, gathering, analysing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors, and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers making strategic decisions for an organization.
CI provides a perspective of risks and opportunities for a firm’s performance. It is a perspective on the facts and an ethical and legal business practice, as opposed to industrial espionage.
For a company, CI is also a way to observe itself from an outsiders perspective. It involves understanding and learning what’s happening in the world outside your business so the company can take into account these outside factors.
The term CI is often viewed as synonymous with competitor analysis but competitive intelligence is more than analyzing competitors—it is about making the organization more competitive relative to its entire environment and stakeholders: customers, competitors, distributors, technologies, and macroeconomic data.
The words data, information and intelligence have a tendency to get mixed up so frequently that it is useful to clarify what these terms really mean. With regards to definitions, there is always likely to be some level of disagreement, with people having their own interpretations of these functions.
DATA Raw, unstructured collected facts and figures.
INFORMATION Data that is placed in context. More structured than data and has more meaning.
INTELLIGENCE Insight is provided by the collector based on analysis and processing of the data and information. Possible outcomes to different responses are estimated and suggested. In this phase it is critical to be able to see issues from different perspectives that are relevant to organisational objectives and that supports decision making.
From data and information to intelligence
First material is collected according to defined requirements. Noise is filtered out and remaining artifacts are grouped according to defined characteristics. Once data is assigned a purpose it becomes information. Information with a strategic purpose that can be used to gain competitive advantage is exclusively a human based activity, even if it uses computer based analytics and other means of analysis.
Intelligence led assessments can then be acted upon. Not acting at all can be the preferred choice. But there is a clear difference between being aware and choosing not to act, than not acting because of inability or being unaware.
Regardless of the situation, intelligence assessments and estimates enable decisionmakers to formulate plans and make better decisions. Thus, predictive, accurate, and relevant intelligance can mitigate the risks inherent in business and increase the likelihood of success.
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