Competitive Intelligence Vs Corporate Espionage – What’s the Difference?

Corporate espionage is not new to us. We’ve had a taste of it in films, television series and books, but not many of us are aware of its prevalence in the real world. Big and small corporations are willing to pay exorbitant sums of money to get their hands on a competitors trade secrets whether its information about their next lineup of goods or their secret recipe.

Money does not matter to them because this information can guarantee double and triple amount in returns if they manage to gain ground and dominate the market shares. This is the information that can literally take them from rags to riches.

There is another method of information collection called competitive intelligence. Many mistake competitive intelligence and corporate espionage to be the same. The most important point of distinction is that one is legal and the other illegal.

So what is the difference between competitive intelligence and corporate espionage?

Competitive Intelligence (CI)

Competitive Intelligence is looked upon as a healthy and legal business practice. Unlike a few decades ago, the market for goods has become highly competitive. There are hundreds of companies manufacturing the same product only with a slightly different design and a few added features. If a business has to survive this competition, it is necessary that it keeps itself abreast with information about its competitors. This is where competitive intelligence comes in.

Competitive intelligence is an ethical method of gathering, managing and analyzing information about one’s competitors. The process is not a secretive one. The required information is collected from public sources including trade events, corporate publications, patent filings, company websites and news bulletins. The information that is gathered is used to the advantage of their business. Competitive intelligence is more like market research.

Corporate Espionage (CE)

Corporate Espionage is deemed unethical and illegal. This is the type we get to see in movies and read about in books. The objective of corporate espionage is to acquire private and confidential information about a commercial organization. The process is illegal first because of the information that is traded out and second because of the methods used to do the same.

Unlike competitive intelligence, it involves getting important trade secrets using illegal techniques. Either the information is stolen or is obtained by bribing an employee working with the organization. This employee is usually a person who holds a position of authority and has unlimited access to the company’s confidential information. In some cases these top-level employees are blackmailed to obtain the information.

The kind of information usually sought includes product designs, manufacturing techniques, trademark recipes and formulas, sales and marketing strategies, pricing, customer data, R&D strategies and company policies not available to the public. They might also try to obtain information about company bids in various projects.

Corporate espionage is basically spying and usually takes place between corporations while CI involves following ethical business norms and follows legal guidelines. There is however one similarity that we tend to overlook between the two – it is done without the knowledge of the target company. Corporations can use both competitive intelligence and corporate espionage to run their business.

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