Competitive intelligence (CI) is the gathering of publicly-available information about an enterprise's competitors and the use of that information to gain a business advantage. The goals of competitive intelligence include discerning potential business risks and opportunities and enabling faster reaction to competitors' actions and events.
Publicly-available information, in this context, refers to any information that can be legally obtained, rather than information that the business being investigated offers freely. Sources of publicly available information include -- among a great number of other possibilities -- company directories, legal filings and documentation from government agencies and regulatory bodies.
According to the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) code of ethics, those conducting CI investigations must refrain from illegal activities, disclose information about their identity and corporate affiliation prior to any interviews, and provide honest and reliable information as a result of the investigation. The covert and often illegal gathering of competitors' information is known as industrial espionage.