Competitive intelligence methods abroad

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Despite paramilitary name under competitive intelligence refers to the direction of the business activities associated with obtaining and processing information about the competitive environment of the company. In normal market conditions, only open sources are used to collect data. But often the problem is solved by incorrect, hacker methods. This is most often abused by Chinese companies among foreign companies. And in the US, even the resources of the federal intelligence agency are involved in industrial espionage.

Competitive Intelligence Concept

Without collecting and analyzing information about competitors, a company cannot develop, sometimes it even becomes difficult for it to survive in oversaturated markets. The service that organizes the legal receipt of high-quality information is becoming one of the most important divisions of the enterprise. Such a unit always works only within the framework of the law, often its activities are limited by codes of ethics in force in the corporate environment. This distinguishes competitive intelligence from industrial espionage, which does not disdain illegal methods of obtaining data. Another difference is that intelligence always provides the customer with processed and analyzed information of high quality, while espionage offers raw data that has yet to be processed, and their reliability is questionable. The analysis will allow the method of comparison and numerous checks to weed out knowingly inaccurate data.

Data sources

Understanding a competitor's strategy turns out to be critical to achieving business results. An analysis of the competitive environment is necessary, but it should be carried out using methods that do not violate the law. Despite the fact that it is difficult to identify the stakeholder through a chain of intermediaries, it does not formally use malware or hardware bugs on its own, the business community will always determine who is behind a hacker attack.

In competitive intelligence and industrial espionage, the sources of information overlap:

  • person. The carrier of information, primary, secondary or disinformation, can convey it in a conversation, interview, written communication;
  • document. The data is recorded on any material or electronic media - from company balance sheets to short press releases in the media;
  • subject-material environment. Products, packaging, industrial waste can be used for analysis.

The choice of information source depends on the task at hand. Most commonly used:

  • publicly disclosed information about the company. Abroad, the requirements for disclosure of information about the activities of firms whose shares are traded on the open market are very high. For their counterfeiting, criminal liability is threatened, so prospectuses or quarterly reports can provide more complete and reliable information than other hard-to-find sources;
  • marketing research and surveys. Understanding what information competitors are looking for makes it possible to anticipate their strategy;
  • speeches by top managers of the company, who often provide complete and comprehensive information for intelligence, an accidental slip of the tongue is often decisive;
  • reports of consulting companies professionally collecting and analyzing information about all significant organizations;
  • websites of state organizations. In the United States, there are comprehensive databases in the public domain where you can even get information about utility bills and the timeliness of their payment by firms;
  • base of court precedents, where all information about competitors' disputes is located;
  • the media archives, which collect all publications about companies and managers that have ever appeared in print;
  • amateur sites dedicated to the collection of any available information - from business jet routes to the dynamics of shipping containers with iPhones from a specific port.

This data is in the public domain; to obtain it, a hacker attack or bribery of insiders in order to organize leaks is not required. The quality of the report depends on the completeness of the coverage of the data and the quality of the analysis carried out using specialized programs by specialists in specific markets.

The main criteria for assessing the quality of information obtained by competitive intelligence methods and provided for analysis:

  • degree of relevance. The data must be fresh and relevant to the present or future of the competitor;
  • degree of reliability. In competitive wars, participants do not disdain disinformation, and data from official sources, often audited, will always be more reliable than illegally obtained;
  • degree of importance. A hacker may not always be able to assess the importance of data, and consulting companies carrying out competitive intelligence can determine what exactly will interest the customer;
  • degree of completeness. Distorted or incomplete data will create an inaccurate picture of what is happening;
  • degree of relevance. The information should characterize exactly those objects that are of interest to the customer.

The quality of the information collected by the consulting agency's own competitive intelligence unit determines the company's financial results.

The human factor in the competitive intelligence market

Intelligence always uses the available resources to obtain information to the fullest. The employees of a competing company turn out to be an important source of information. Moreover, not only honest methods are used to process potential agents and obtain data.

Among the ways that are in practice:

  • inviting an employee of the target company for an interview in order to offer him a new job. A poorly motivated manager of a sufficiently high level in his company will disclose information about his employer, his strategy and business potential as much as possible in order to increase salaries or prospects. Checking such data for reliability is necessary, they can be deliberate misinformation, but the method is often used abroad. Confidentiality agreements cannot protect against this type of leak;
  • employment of system administrators in a company aimed at collecting specific data;
  • introducing data-gathering malware into a computer using social engineering techniques. There is a known case when an engineer of one of the firms was offered to purchase a rare disc with recordings of songs from a foreign group of interest to him, and he could not resist listening to it at a workstation. The programs contained on the disk were able to provide the customer with maximum data. The cost of obtaining them did not exceed 5 thousand dollars with a working security system in the company.

Such situations are not analogous to ordinary hacker attacks, they are associated with working with a specific person and using his weaknesses, without directly violating the law and involving the employee in illegal activities.

According to experts, the competitive intelligence market alone exceeds $ 10 billion in the United States alone. And using simple methods of working with the human factor - social engineering - often allows you to achieve success on a small budget. It is often important for competitive intelligence professionals to find an accurate and quick solution to avoid the risks of prosecution.

Technical methods and solutions

Competitive intelligence techniques that approximate industrial espionage are often based on the use of information technology. It is far from always possible to bring the customer to justice, especially when a hacker group dispersed in several countries of the world becomes the executor.

An even more difficult task in identifying the difference between competitive intelligence and espionage will be when large corporations use government intelligence services for their own purposes. In the US, the Echelon system has been created, which can intercept IP packets with information passing through American routers, unpack them and search for information there by keywords. It is actively used against European competitors, while no one bears responsibility for illegal methods of obtaining information. In China, hackers are actively involved in industrial espionage who cooperate with the military department.

In Japan, there is a case when a pool of the largest corporations producing chemical fertilizers decided to enter the Philippine market. A lengthy work of collecting and analyzing data was carried out - and a lightning-fast operation allowed to completely displace local producers. Such complex solutions allow increasing the market share, ensuring sustainable development of corporations, but they require significant resources and connections in the governments of their own and foreign countries.


Foreign experience in competitive intelligence may be in demand in Russia, but although the current situation will not make it possible to use a number of specialized resources. The functions of the subdivision that collects and analyzes information will be in demand in the field not of attacks, but of ensuring the security of the enterprise.