Конкурентная разведкаCompetitive intelligence
Modern economic reality gives rise to the need for enterprise managers to obtain information about the activities of their competitors using several special means and methods. Their totality is competitive intelligence. It is one of the constituent parts of business or business intelligence. At the same time, the subject of business intelligence is the study of the entire set of activities of the business community - from lobbying bills to business strategies of other companies. Competitive intelligence focused specifically on the study of the activities of direct business rivals of the enterprise, working with it in the same competitive market sectors.
Competitive intelligence relies on extensive methodological material prepared by American and European experts in this field. The definition of the Society of Competitive Intelligence is precisely the legal way of collecting information and its subsequent analysis, which allows you to get a complete picture of the opportunities, strategies, vulnerabilities in the activities of competitors. A similar definition was developed by the Russian Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals. They view these activities as a strategic initiative to help them gain business value by examining all aspects of competitors' performance.
Russian legislation does not yet contain norms aimed at regulating precisely competitive intelligence, therefore, in such activities, it is necessary to rely on general norms for working with the collection and analysis of information, avoiding violations and illegal methods of obtaining it. At the same time, open information sources often provide ample opportunities for work in this direction. Along with competing companies directly, business intelligence can be used to study their customers, suppliers, business environment, marketing and competition policies, and even individual employees.
The goal of competitive intelligence
The purpose of conducting business intelligence activities can be called obtaining information about the work of the company's competitors, their business opportunities, and their weaknesses. Obtaining the results of intelligence activities becomes a stable basis for developing your own strategies, intercepting significant customers or market sectors, preventing the entry of competing products or services into the markets without violating the requirements of current legislation. In this case, the private goals of intelligence are:
- defining the strategy of a competing company, which in practice is not reflected in such open sources as annual reports or prospectuses of the company. It must be installed based on comparing all the steps of a competitor and identifying his true intentions. This knowledge will help the client company to form its own strategy, taking into account the understanding of competitors' intentions;
- determination of the potential and capabilities, the strongest and weakest sides of competitors, their true assessment. Knowing this will help either weaken the strengths of a competing business, for example, by affecting its talent pool, or use weaknesses, such as gaps in supply chains, to create your competing proposal;
- identifying the strengths and weaknesses of competitors' security services, which will provide the necessary information with less effort;
- assessing the general state of the industry and identifying opportunities to weaken competitors by confronting them with other representatives of the business community who have focused their efforts in the same direction of business activity;
- assessment of potential partners and customers, selection of those with whom interaction will be most beneficial for the company, finding persons in the structure of competitors, interaction with which can help increase the profitability of a particular contract;
- creation of any favorable conditions for the activities of the customer company, for example, finding out the possibility of lobbying for a particular bill.
At the same time, the goals of competitive intelligence are different from the goals of industrial espionage, during which various methods of illegally obtaining or intercepting information are allowed, also involving the acquisition of competitive advantages, but based not on knowledge management, but the direct theft of commercial secrets. Often, the goal of business espionage is to weaken a competitor, rather than build up the company's own capacity. The most frequent method of intelligence is not even theft of information by technical means, but bribery or blackmail of employees, the creation of certain situations that undermine security while methods that violate dozens of articles of the criminal code can be used.
Features of reconnaissance
For this activity, the following key features can be identified:
- constancy. The work on collecting and analyzing the necessary information regarding established competitors and newly entering the market of companies should be carried out on an ongoing basis since any refusal to work for a certain period can lead to the loss of significant amounts of information;
- legitimacy. All measures and methods of organizing intelligence should be only in the legal field, while ethical norms should not be violated either, although in some cases the use of certain methods of intelligence can lead to the abandonment of the rules of fair competition. The extent of this diversion can be controlled by the norms of the business community;
- reasonable sufficiency. It is necessary to ensure that the amount of information collected does not exceed certain limits and does not contain unnecessary arrays, otherwise the intelligence objectives may be achieved in irrational ways;
- purposefulness. Competitive intelligence cannot be conducted against an indefinite range of objects, it must be aimed at specific companies or market sectors, and the result of such activities will increase the company's profits.
It should be borne in mind that up to 95% of the necessary information can be obtained from open sources, while the possibility of obtaining an additional 5% will not always create the desired ratio of risk and value of the information received. Improving the quality of information analysis using modern software products often allows you to achieve significantly better results. From this perspective, competitive intelligence is a knowledge management technique that helps deliver business advantage.
Means and methods of competitive intelligence
Today, experts in the field of competitive intelligence offer the following set of tools and methods to help obtain the necessary information and competitive advantages:
- analysis of all available open sources of information about a competitor, collection of this information and its storage in systematized databases;
- direct interaction with competitors' employees using surveys or phone calls, allowing you to get all the necessary information about goods and services, ways and methods of work, peculiarities of interaction with customers and suppliers;
- search and identification of all clients of a competing company, determination of their interest in the safety of business relations with this particular company, obtaining information about their assessment of the quality of its services;
- direct penetration into the territory of the enterprise to collect information about its competitive advantages;
- getting a job in a competitor's company;
- using the opportunity to obtain information about inspections carried out in the company by various organizations;
- using non-prohibited methods of studying paper media, for example, the rubbish of the company or printed publications ordered by it;
- interaction with suppliers of various consulting, valuation, marketing, or audit services to obtain data that were not defined as trade secrets or otherwise protected in contracts concluded with such companies;
- using forums and social networks to communicate with company employees and receive answers to questions posed from them;
- the use of technical means of reconnaissance, not prohibited by law;
- other ways and methods of obtaining the necessary primary information.
In addition to the extraction of primary information, the technique of desk work with sources of open secondary information is used. Large companies are quite often required by law to publish large volumes of statutory reports, both accounting and finance, and related to shareholders and affiliates. The use of such information is often more useful than obtaining not the most reliable data from employees of the company who do not always have valuable information. The following typical methods of collecting secondary information are often used:
- analysis of publications in the media, advertising materials, methods of conducting open marketing campaigns;
- examination of published or otherwise available financial statements;
- analysis of information present in open databases;
- obtaining open information about real estate objects from cadastral databases;
- acquisition of marketing reports previously performed in the interests of the company;
- analysis of affiliated structures, members of groups of persons, foreign founders, and other economic ties;
- study of data on arbitration cases of companies, available in the databases of arbitration courts.
Protection against competitive intelligence
Any enterprise that may be the target of industrial espionage or other areas of business intelligence should take measures to protect against unauthorized interference. Most often, illegal obtaining of information is carried out by software, therefore, protection systems against this type of intelligence should be based on the use of the same means of protection, designed specifically to prevent information leakage. Information services professionals need to be able to audit information security and propose measures that can help avoid the leakage of confidential information. DLP systems and SIEM systems are among the most commonly used security software. The former allows blocking the operation of all technical means of intercepting electronic information, prohibiting its transmission through any communication channels upon receipt of a signal about its conversion. The latter analyzes the entire existing array of threats and interventions in the work, and in case of any unauthorized change in the functioning of the circuits of information systems, they give an alarm signal that allows identifying and suppressing the interference.
But it is impossible to fight against the methods of competitive intelligence only using the software. It is necessary to develop an additional group of organizational measures that will allow for high-quality countering threats:
- to prevent the leakage of important information during the reception of visitors at the company's offices, to organize a special access regime to prevent the penetration of intelligence officers into the territory of the enterprise;
- establish the rules for conducting telephone conversations with new clients or employees of regulatory services and the amount of information that can be transferred to them;
- restrict free access to any media, establish different levels of access;
- develop standards and methodologies for working with any type of information;
- include in all contracts of the company, within the framework of which information of a confidential nature may be transferred, the conditions for the preservation of commercial secrets;
- use all available means to identify employees capable of transmitting information to competitors and block their activities.
Any deterioration in the competitive position may be the result of business intelligence work. You need to be prepared for this challenge.
Activities that can be regarded as competitive intelligence must be suppressed using all available modern means of defense. At the same time, there is no need to completely abandon the independent use of this valuable tool to increase your competitive advantages. It is only necessary to fully comply with the law and prevent the use of illegal means of obtaining information.