A unified view and modular definition of Competitive Intelligence has been developed and empirically validated by Madureira, Popovic and Castelli as follows: "Competitive intelligence (CI) is the process and forward-looking practices used in producing knowledge about the competitive environment to improve organizational performance." 
Other definitions include:
"Competitive Intelligence (CI) is a systematic and ongoing process for gathering and analyzing information to derive actionable insights about competitors, the competitive environment and trends in order to further the organization’s business goals."
Competitive Intelligence is defined as the art of collecting, analyzing, and presenting information about the external environment to help management make decisions in a timely manner.
An alternative name for competitive intelligence practitioners in commercial enterprises is industry risk analysts. Most Fortune 500 companies today employ one or more CI managers in their various business units.
CI is concerned with the ethical and legal methods companies use to monitor their competitors, identify growth opportunities, understand their own competitive position, and improve their performance. CI helps organizations sustain their competitive advantage by providing actionable insights and reliable input to decision-makers at operational, tactical, or strategic levels.
It also may refer to the process / department set up in many companies to systematically collect and disseminate this information.
There are many synonyms for competitive intelligence including business intelligence, market intelligence, corporate intelligence.
Competitive Intelligence (CI) has been a significant area of growth and is quickly becoming a must-have core competency for many businesses. CI is a hybrid process of marketing research and strategic analysis. At the core of this concept is the ability to understand the competition’s position and predict the likely moves that competing companies will employ based on basic business principles. Based on the article by Singh, entitled “Benchmark You CI Capabilities using a self Diagnosis Framework,” companies can have various levels of competency in a wide range of CI disciplines:
• Roles and responsibilities – assigning roles that each CI clearly understands
• Processes – level at which CI drives strategic decisions
• Secondary research – use of secondary research sources
• Primary research – use of human network to access meaningful intelligence
• Analysis – use of analytical tools
• People – level of CI experience from team members
• Organizational structure – appropriate placement of CI team
• CI awareness – awareness of importance of CI function
• Technology – integration of technical tools to aid CI function
• Value Perception – formal justification of the value of CI
• CI professionalism – development plan for career progression
John Pepper, the ex-CEO of Proctor & Gamble, believes CI is more than just for competitive or market analysis. He considers CI business intelligence, which drives the organization and strategic direction for the company. He thinks of CI within the hub & spoke model where CI is the hub and it is surrounded by the multiple divisions of P&G, including health care, tissue towel, baby car, etc. He expands the role CI plays beyond business intelligence by discussing how CI also can drive company culture. In this aspect, CI can create a working environment that relies on information and the use of knowledge to make informed decisions and, inevitably, drives business faster and creates products that reach the market faster.
In the medical device arena, there have been several mergers and acquisitions over the past 12-18 months. One company, in particular, Covidien, has acquired several companies and technologies, including Somentics, Aspect Medical, and LidCO. Although Covidien may not have a CI function, they certainly had to strategically evaluate the appropriate growth segments and ensure that the companies that they acquired did not compete, and, instead, complemented each other. They also had to predict the potential moves of competing companies following these acquisitions. My company, Edwards Lifesciences, reacted to this move by attacking potentially weakened accounts during Covidien’s sales force realignment. The CI function would have driven the business plan before the event, developed organizational strategies during the event, and laid out a likely reactive tactical plan from Covidien competition.
- Competitive intelligence (CI) is the process and forward-looking practices used in producing knowledge about the competitive environment to improve organizational performance.
- Madureira, L., Popovic, A., & Castelli, M. (2022). Competitive Intelligence Empirical Construct Validation Using Expert In-Depth Interviews Study. 2021 IEEE International Conference on Technology Management, Operations and Decisions, IEEE ICTMOD 2021 1570752459, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1109/ICTMOD52902.2021.9739422