The most important place to start any discussion of competitive intelligence is with the Code of Ethics by which to conduct such investigations. The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals has a solid decades old code. It is:
• To continually strive to increase respect and recognition for the profession.
• To pursue one’s duties with zeal and diligence while maintaining the highest degree of professionalism and avoiding all unethical practices.
• To faithfully adhere to and abide by one’s company’s policies, objectives, and guidelines.
• To comply with all applicable laws.
• To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews.
• To fully respect all requests for confidentiality of information.
• To promote and encourage full compliance with these ethical standards within one’s company, with third-party contractors, and within the entire profession.
In the “Intelligence Systems Cycle of Operations” figure, the five basic operations of competitive intelligence are shown as a cycle because of the unending need for information. No one process can stand alone, all are necessary and add value to each other.
The process starts with Needs Identification so that the explicitly stated requirements of decision-makers can be met. Without a clear focus it is been found that competitive intelligence individuals and organizations turn into mere generators of information and bring no identifiable strategic value to their organizations.
The next step is Planning and Direction. To avoid collecting and analyzing information that is not directly relevant to management’s intelligence requirements, careful planning procedures must be part of any intelligence system.
This step is followed by the Information Storage and Processing step. Efficient intelligence systems make use of information storage retrieval and searching applications to facilitate the collection retrieval, archiving, and analysis of information. To provide competitive information that is decision specific and exclusive, intelligence systems must harness both published and unpublished sources.
Thus in the Proper Collection and Reporting step a network of internal and external human sources of intelligence along with skilled information scientists is critical to success.
Once the information has been gathered it moves into the Analysis and Production step. For intelligence to be truly decision relevant and for it to address future competitive situations, intelligence systems must apply robust analytical techniques and methodologies. Doing so moves a program from providing data summaries that talk about what competitors did yesterday, to providing analyzed intelligence that anticipates future competitive behavior and discusses implications for company strategy.