Corporate intelligence collection is often mistaken for corporate espionage: they both involve gathering data, of course, but they’re hardly the same thing. Unlike espionage, which involves procuring information through illegal means, corporate intelligence is perfectly legal — and it helps businesses keep ahead of the curve in myriad ways.

There are two factions within corporate intelligence services. First, one must collect the information. It is the first step that requires explanation for how espionage and intelligence gathering differ.


Defined as the acting of “spying to obtain secret information,” espionage is largely political in nature. It often involves gathering intelligence about another country or a military group. Corporate espionage applies when a business applies the same illegal techniques to procuring information about another business. Those techniques may include:

  • Stealing intellectual property
  • Relying on insider trading techniques
  • Bribing employers, partners or shareholders
  • Selling customer databases
  • Performing illegal surveillance

Corporate Intelligence Gathering

Unlike espionage, competitive intelligence services don’t collect information illegally. Instead, corporate intelligence relies on more public information. The company may use:

  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Topics trending on social media
  • The patent database
  • Information put forth at trade shows or conferences

How Competitive Intelligence Services Help Businesses

The second step in competitive intelligence services involves analyzing the collected data. Businesses use a competitive intelligence analyst to help find patterns within the data that’s been collected — often with great success. A competitive intelligence analyst can deduce what new products will receive support (by consumers or by the government), true — but the real benefit of an analyst is his/her ability to assess the risks and opportunities of new products and services. It is the analyst who tells business owners how a new product could potentially affect not just Competitor A’s sales, but also how that new product might affect the way people shop or use products overall. The iPhone may not have been the first phone with internet service, for example, but the right corporate intelligence gathering was able to let other phone companies predict how important it is to create applications that a user wants for business, for news and for connecting with other people outside of the simple phone call.

The best competitive intelligence services offer a business a window into what consumers want — sometimes even before consumers know they want it. Corporate intelligence is really about anticipating the needs of a community on a local or even global scale. Investigating new trends is only half of the work: determining how those trends are likely to affect a company’s bottom line is the real secret to success.