Business intelligence is a general term used to refer to a number of activities a company may undertake to gather information about their market or their competitors. Some areas often included under the blanket heading of business intelligence are: competition analysis, market analysis, and industry analysis. Some people also consider industrial espionage that operates for information-gathering purposes to be a form of business intelligence.
In most cases, a company will either hire an outside agency or create their own dedicated business intelligence group. This group will then gather information from inside the company about how well the company has been performing and where improvements may be made. The group then looks to outside sources, which may include public records of other businesses in the same sector, market analysis by third-parties, and customer survey information. The group may then delve further into specific competitors, both by examining their public information and business model, and in some cases by using an industrial spy to covertly gather information.
Business intelligence systems are contrasted to more classic forms of information gathering by their interdepartmental focus and their general overview towards business performance. They are also unique in their use of advanced technology and techniques to mine for data and to crunch that data in the most optimal manner. While a group in charge of market analysis might have a strong understanding of the particular sector of the market in which a business operates, their lack of the same detailed understanding about specific competitors and the inner management of the company make their information less useful. In a business intelligence model, all these various forms of business improvement are tied together so that communication is quick and easy, and each segment helps inform the other segments so their insights are even more valuable than they would be on their own.
Once a business intelligence system is in a place, a company can expect to find improved turnaround times on data collection, ideas for new business initiatives, more targeted marketing campaigns, a much more precise picture of customer needs and desires, and a strong understanding of how best to compete with top competitors. The improvement in business agility that comes with business intelligence is substantial in most cases, and allows a company to take better advantage of constantly evolving market conditions.
The use of industrial espionage in business intelligence is widely considered something of a grey area. Some businesses choose not to engage in covert information gathering, while others consider it a core part of a healthy business intelligence program. Many areas commonly referred to as industrial espionage are fully legal, such as careful tracking of patent filings and corporate newsletters to predict where a competitor is moving in the marketplace. Other methods, such as using bribery to get information from top researchers, or installing covert surveillance systems within company headquarters, are not.