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When most people hear the word, “espionage,” they likely picture a spy from the big screen—James Bond for action junkies or perhaps Austin Powers for comedy lovers. But espionage isn’t confined to Hollywood thrillers. Companies around the world have been the victims of corporate or industrial espionage. Nearly a decade ago, Bloomberg published an article about infamous cases of corporate espionage. The line introducing the story began, “For as long as there has been commerce, there has been espionage.” Then, to prove the point, the article offered the example of a Jesuit missionary who, while visiting China in the early 1700s, just happened to pick up the secret technique for making high-quality porcelain to bring back to France. Which begs the question, what is the difference between competitive intelligence research and corporate espionage?
Authentic competitive intelligence (CI) delivers essential insights to decision makers across an enterprise, helping organizations anticipate competitive threats, fuel innovation, and inform long-range plans. And conducting CI research is significantly easier in the digital age since company and executive data is available through cloud-based tools, however it isn’t without risk. To address the potential for misuse and abuse of proprietary company information, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) has established a strict code of ethics to follow when conducting competitive intelligence research, including:
Ethical competitive intelligence research gathers relevant data—from legally obtained sources—about individual competitors, as well as the competitive landscape within a particular industry or market segment.
Now, let’s look at the negative side—corporate espionage. The digital age, unfortunately, makes corporate espionage significantly easier too. A disgruntled employee can load thousands of sensitive documents on an easy-to-hide thumb drive. Cyber attacks can infiltrate corporate servers and steal huge volumes of data in an instant. Other examples of espionage, illegal or unethical competitive intelligence include:
According to the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, corporate espionage cost the economy $300 billion and 2.1 million jobs in 2013—and the methods for stealing data have only gotten more sophisticated since then.
Competitive intelligence, when done right, can give your organization an edge—legally. What should your CI strategy include? Naturally, you should look internally to start your research. Team up with sales to procure interviews with new customers and lost prospects, then conduct win/loss analysis to understand the factors that led to a closing or losing a deal, pinpointing:
And don’t forget to follow up with other experts across your organization. You can pick their brains for insights into market trends or competitors’ habits. Afterwards, ask them to keep you in the loop if they come across any other interesting resources.
Likewise, you can tap industry experts outside your company, but if time is tight (and it always is), you can skip the interviews and focus on the content they produce. But instead of painstaking open web research, consider a solution like Nexis®.
With a world-leading database spanning print, broadcast and web news, thought-leader and industry blogs, company financial information, legal and patents data and more, Nexis puts comprehensive competitive intelligence research at your fingertips. Powerful pre- and post-search filters make it easy to cut through the clutter to refined results sets that let you uncover insights more efficiently. And because LexisNexis® works with publishers to manage copyright compliance, you can use the information you uncover with 007-level confidence while knowing that your competitive intelligence has been gathered ethically and legally.
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