Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Preparing the e-course Operation of Surveillance and CSURV Devices ( ) for my prospective students, I've asked myself the following questions.

Are surveillance and competitive intelligence two separate areas of commercial investigations (as suggested, for example, at ) or are they not [for example, "The aspects of observation and surveillance, just like in any intelligence undertaking, should also be present in competitive intelligence." ( )? If the latter was true, what role would surveillance play in the work of Competitive Intelligence professionals? Do companies resist CI surveillance in the same manner as citizens resist state surveillance?

Would you please assist me in answering the above questions? In your opinion, should I multiply these questions? What else should be added?

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Sorry, Tad. May be I've misunderstood you. I am shure that Surveillance is one of instruments of CI. Sometimes you can get a lot of information for your analisys only having a look at the industrial site of your competitor. In Russia we often use this instrument. So far here it is not unlegal. I agree with GSerrano.

Best regards
I've reorganized the groups ( ) "vibrant with life" in Multilingual Studies at a Distance. Students and Academics of All Countries, Unite! :-) ( ): hence the discussion A controversial definition of surveillance ( ) has been just resent to the group Technology for Homeland Security ( ) which in my intention should better correspond with the course in Technology for Homeland Security: Inspection and Detection Technologies ( ).
I would submit that surveillance and competitive intelligence are not separate. Surveillance is an information gathering tool and competitive intelligence is a process or cycle which includes all forms of (ethical) information collection. More specifically, physical surveillance--as mentioned in the above advertisements--is simply the observation and recording of facts involving the movement of people and their actions in public places. Meeting between executives, tours of existing facilities, photographs of competitor's construction sites, even surveillance just to improve your knowledge of someone's lifestyle may provide huge insight to a decision-maker or alternatively, provide information for further focused collection .

The decision to use physical surveillance should be made during the "collection management" cycle. Is it the best tool to gather the information you need? Sometimes the answer is yes.

Companies resist physical surveillance because it's expensive when properly performed. A Marketing/CI manager who works in-house will normally need to contract an outside agency. The Finance Dept may need prior approval to contract with a detective/investigative agency for this limited purpose, but need not be appraised of the methods the contractor intends to use. "Surveillance" does raise the issue of privacy to managers, and the term--and any methods subcontractors use--are not discussed. By it's nature, physical surveillance is an aggressive form of information collection. It requires trained and practiced people to actively follow another individual. It requires aggressive driving with more than one vehicle and radio communication (or a Bluetooth cellhone and conference call option), It requires props and and ruses to maintain visual contact. It also requires time -- a surveillance is not complete in a day, or maybe not even a week.

In may instances surveillance can provide information that is not attainable in any other way, or in a timely manner. The decision to use surveillance, or contract for it, shoudl be determined by your information collection needs. Properly done, it is not illegal, nor unethical. Properly performed it is also not an invasion of privacy.
Pete, I'd like to thank you for your interest in this discussion thread. As "Former Army intelligence officer" ( ) you know perfectly that surveillance means more ( and ) than "an information gathering tool". I love those expressions "Properly done" and "Properly performed" not less than you. However, I love CSURV ( ) much more: hence Polish INWIGILACJA ( ) offered by me to students studying the e-course Technology for Homeland Security ( ).

Best wishes,
This is a recent article that was interesting because it mentioned camera surveillance by people taking tours of factories. Classic use for competitive intelligence and should have been caught by security. The Sony EVO-250 (Hi-8) camera is older but still useful for this purpose. However, many smaller cameras still exist. Geonautics makes a smaller camera for covert body-worn application called the "Emu". I have not had a chance to see one yet.

Best Regards,

Pete Digriz
Thanks a lot. I learn about that problem both from Polish (,,5610912,00.html ) and German (,,5605659,00.html ) sources. Your English source improves it especially by adding readers' comments. What do you think about bernie1927's opinion "here in the States, we have the same problem with the Chinese and the Russians. Since governments are behind internet hacking now, I fear that our defense and communication systems are in great peril" ( )? The excellent grounds for such symposiums as that one recommended by Richard Caldwell ( ), isn't that so?
Certainly China has a dedicated espionage program for hacking computers. And as open source/newspaper accounts aptly describe, China has also performed "computer assaults" against US defense, government, and nuclear industry targets. However, I think this is not the same as "surveillance", although both use technology to gather information. I don't equate the two.
Corporations, either public or privately owned (Google, Microsoft, and some others excepted), which perform a competitive intelligence function probably do not have the capabilities, or the will, to perform hacking feats to find another companies "secrets'. Corporations do however have the capabilities to perform some rudimentary surveillance which may give them a market advantage in negotiations or product development.
I am not so naive to suggest that it cannot happen--it certainly can. But I believe that any computer hacking is the exception and not the norm.
Hello Tad,

Well, I think to begin to address your questions, we would absolutely have to start with an operational definition of "surveillance." With that in mind, I see some dialogue did take place between you and Pete relative to trying to lay out such a definition; because without one your questions cannot be addressed meaningfully.

That said, I think we all know and agree regardless of what corner of the world we may hail from or our experiential level, that what really falls under the banner of "surveillance" isn't just basic competitive monitoring of the environment using primary intelligence HUMINT gathering methodologies and secondary sources, etc. No, "surveillance" entails covert photography, audio recording, physical and e- trailing and so forth; ie-sophisticated technological measures that in my experience in the US are not capabilities most in-house corporate practitioners have the training or budgets to employ. This isn't to say that they don't go out and get such capabilities from a plentiful amount of outside contractors- many of which are chock full of ex CIA,FBI, KGB personnel, etc.

That said, perhaps the bigger question not being asked here is "Should private companies (CI depts by extension) be using covert photography, recording, trailing ,etc? Clearly, these are methods that are in broad practice within the gov agencies (IC)-but are they really acceptable for business? No easy answer to that because laws and practices differ across the globe, but what if we just started with asking this just about the US?
I'd like to thank you, Monica, for your comment. I didn't define the word "surveillance" because I suspected that many various aspects of it were present in Competition Intelligence. I think the most important problem here is acceptance. The CI professionals just like any other professionals keeping people under surveillance don't ask those people for acceptance. For example, do you think that each of the customers who appear in that remarkable scene ( ) in the movie Double Exposure ( ) would give Dr. Bart Keppel his/her acceptance?
Surveillance is rarely used. I worked for a large rubber belt manufacturing company--which makes automobile timing and fan belts, motorcycle drive belts, and industrial belts. A salesman in one region learned that executives from a competing belt manufacturer were coming to the US, he in turn reported this to HQ.
The decision was approved to hire surveillance and follow the executives. A "leading" national firm was hired. Little was learned. This was possibly due to poor briefings or information requirements given to the surveillance company. The surveillance team entirely missed a meeting between city planners and the executives for a new manufacturing facility. This information was learned the following day in the media when another salesman sent HQ a newspaper article. However, the locations of proposed factory sites were determined. The local attorneys and architects/construction consultants for the competitors were identified.
I think most business which hire surveillance do not get good results. Even when detailed results are provided, I think little information is actionable.
The surveillance had the opportunity to provide useful information but the relationship between the company and the surveillance providers, in this instance, was not well established.
Hi Tad and Pete

Hmm, "acceptance." In the business world, I don't think executives are going to agree to surveillance. Further, by asking if they agree to surveillance, whether they agree or not, you have given them the heads up that its a possibility and they will likely then alter their behavior and be more careful, thereby thwarting the surveillance effort. The point here I think is that in the business world, it's got to be covert for it to have any success.

As to Pete's commentary- I agree, it isn't used that often in my experience. When I have seen it used, it is often "reactive"-ie; after the damage has been done, or when something is absolutely imminent; which then brings up the issue of why didn't CI capture the general trend in the first place earlier and give a warning so more proactive handling of the situation could have ensued? I don't know, but I tend to believe that surveillance to gather CI is rather a waste; IF CI analysts are watching the competitors they follow closely and picking up on the signals, surveillance shouldn't be necessary.
Hi Monica. I think you're comments are right on, surveillance to gather CI is rather a wasted effort. But I also believe that it's a wasted effort because it's not directed correctly, not supervised properly, team members not briefed on Critical Information Requirements to gather, and poor overall training. And that's besides the expense. I believe it can gather good useful information, and that surveillance is an under-used tool. But i have a bias for surveillance.
The "stigma" of using surveillance aside, you're right when you say it must be absolutely covert (actually clandestine) to generate success. The company we hired (circa 1993) received a lot of good press for it's CI work in legal and business magazines, but they sub-contracted the surveillance, and that almost ensured it would fail. Surveillance is a perishable skill and just hiring any group of unemployed PI's isn't going to suffice.


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