Differentiating Competitive Intelligence and Corporate Espionage

Differentiating Competitive Intelligence And Corporate Espionage

Companies always enact measures to maintain their competitive edge in the market. One way in which successful companies try to stay on top is to practice competitive intelligence—a perfectly legal practice that encourages healthy competition. Yet in some instances, the legal line is crossed, all in the name of profit and advantage—turning the competitive intelligence process into unlawful corporate espionage.

How can your business maintain a proper competitive intelligence practice without crossing that legal line? It all starts with knowing exactly where competitive intelligence ends, and corporate espionage begins. In this post, we’ll highlight a few of the distinguishing factors.

Defining the Terms

Let’s start with competitive intelligence. This is basically just research, fact-finding to ensure that your business is aware of what’s going on in the industry and able to adapt in kind. Some signs of competitive intelligence include:

  • All applicable laws are upheld—so of course, things like bugging or bribery are not included here.
  • All relevant information is disclosed, and research is conducted ethically. So, if you go to interview someone, you always tell them the business you’re representing and are honest about the intentions of your research.
  • Finally, honest and realistic recommendations are made; this might involve the competitive intelligence fact-finder revealing some unpleasant truths to their employer, such as areas where the business has simply fallen behind.

By contrast, corporate espionage may involve a number of illegal activities—lying, bribing, spying, or bugging a facility in order to illicitly obtain information. While competitive intelligence is characterized by honest research, espionage is by definition shady and secretive. It’s more akin to going through the competition’s garbage, looking for clues, than it is to legitimate fact-finding.

Avoiding the Hornet’s Nest

On paper, these two disciplines may seem very obviously different. The lines between them can sometimes become blurrier in practice, however, the waters muddied either by company culture or even by the country in which the company’s based, where laws about competitive intelligence may differ. It’s vital that your employees understand where that legal line is, and that you regularly review these stipulations about what does and doesn’t constitute corporate spying.

It’s also important to note that the ethical standards that govern competitive intelligence apply to many aspects of your business. For example, certain types of research software are beholden to these legal principles. And, if your company outsources its competitive intelligence needs to an outside investigator, it’s important to rigorously check that investigator’s ethical standards and credentials.

That brings us to National Business Investigations, and our long track record of ethical yet effective competitive intelligence services. We understand that your company needs to keep its eye on what the competition’s doing, and we also understand that you need to remain in full compliance with the law. We can help you avoid the hornet’s nest while still bringing home good, valuable information. Learn more about our competitive intelligence services by contacting National Business Investigations today.

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