THE MAGAZINE

I Spy Your Company Secrets

By John J. McGonagle, Jr., and Carolyn M. Vella

It’s a competitive world. But you knew that. What you may not know is that a lot of information about your company is accessible to your competitors, and the smart ones are busy collecting it, analyzing it, and using it against your business to gain an edge in the marketplace. The good news is that there are ways to thwart competitive intelligence (CI) collection efforts aimed at your organization.

It helps first to understand what CI is. CI consists of two overall facets. First is the use of public sources to develop data (raw facts) on competitors and the market environment. Second is the transformation, by analysis, of that data into information (usable results).

CI collection can be active or defensive. Active CI involves development of intelligence on all aspects of businesses and the competitive environment. Active CI processes are those aimed at collecting raw data and analyzing that data to provide finished intelligence. The active CI may be prepared by a CI unit for use by an internal corporate client, by an external consultant as an input to a CI unit’s reports, or by the same person who will use it. It is then used to improve decision making.

Active CI is divided into four types: strategy-oriented, tactics-oriented, target-oriented, and technology-oriented. A key maxim common to each of the variations of CI is that 90 percent of what a company needs know about competitors and the market to make key decisions is public information or can be systematically, legally, and ethically developed from public data.

In any form of intelligence, the term “public” is to be taken in its broadest sense; it encompasses more than the data released by any reporting agencies to whom businesses must disclose financials, and it goes beyond what you can find reported in the media. The term “public” in CI means all information that can be legally and ethically identified, located, and accessed by someone who knows what to look for. It ranges from a document released by a competitor as a part of a local zoning application to an interview with a member of an advertising agency working for a competitor.

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