Competitive Intelligence (CI) does not involve covert operations or espionage but it is sleuthing ... nearly almost always in electronic form. Law librarians have been doing CI sleuthing for a while and have seen an increase in the number of fee and free tools available nowadays. I could spend days just listing them, but that would defeat the purpose of this blog posting.
When you get a request for information on a company, the first thing you will have to determine is if it is a private or public company, and where it is incorporated. Use a large tool like http://www.hoovers.com/ to determine location and whether it is private or public. There is enough free content on Hoovers to give you this information. The premium databases will give you all kinds of valuable information including financials and key eople, etc.
Once you have identified location, you can either do a Google search for the state's corporations website or you can use BRB Publications' website to find the appropriate state and then do a name search for your entity : http://www.brbpub.com/freeresources/pubrecsitesStates.aspx The kind of information that is available varies from state to state and the searching capability of each site varies too, with Virginia's being one of the least user friendly.
If the company is not large enough to be listed on Hoovers and Googling the company name doesn't provide any useful information and you do not know where the company is incorporated, you will need to use a fee-based tool like http://www.accurint.com/ which is a "pay as you use" kind of subscription but you do need to register and be approved before you are given access. But if you do have access, a nationwide search of corporate filings should give you the state of incorporation. If you have access to Westlaw or Lexis, both have corporate databases that will yield the same information.
Obviously if a company is public you are going to be able to get a whole lot more information than if it were private. If you are looking for information on key management figures and boards of directors, check annual reports and SEC filings. Hoovers also has a section it calls Key People and this is where you can locate CEO information, resumes and salary information if available. If you have a Bloomberg subscription, don't forget to look here as well because it has a management section. Westlaw and Lexis are also good traditional tools to try.
Also, don't forget to look on Linkedin http://www.linkedin.com/ and ZoomInfo http://www.zoominfo.com/ both require free registration to get to more information. And as much as it pains me to say this, do not overlook social networking sites such as Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ I once found someone from a publishing house on Facebook whom I could not locate anywhere else, so do not rule this out as a business resource. Facebook requires registration to set up an account, but it is free.
And while we are on the topic of people hunting, online telephone directories are now more than just a listing of a name, address and telephone number. They have a value added feature listing all previous addresses, so if you are people tracking, this is another means of verifying address information about a person. 411.com is one that I use frequently http://www.411.com/
Once you have located your company and want to figure out its litigation history -- what lawsuits have been filed against it, in which jurisdictions is it being sued the most, what kind of matters is it being sued for? And most importantly, who is getting this client's business if you are not? Resources like West Monitor Suite, Courtlink, AdVantage and Bloomberg have profiles that will show the litigation history beautifully in the form of charts and graphs in eye-catching color. Each resource does it a little differently ... it really is a personal choice which one you pick, depending on what is required. The profiles are really very useful ... you are able to tell at a glance what is going on instead of having to weed through volumes of information, and they work very well to fitting into a report.
Don't overlook Pacer https://pacer.login.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl?court_id=00idx as a resource. It's harder to do and you don't get the pretty charts but it's still possible to know what is happening with a company's litigation. The US Party/Case Index provides a means of searching by company name and will provide a listing of the case name, the court, the date filed and the nature of suit.
If tracking a company's litigation is also part of your sleuthing expedition, you will become familiar with the alert services of Courtlink and CourtExpress, as well as of those of Westlaw and Lexis. If you have a Bloomberg Law account, you are in luck because it has a very speedy alert service. Do not forget about state litigation tracking. There is no way to do this comprehensively but there are some services that will do some part of it. There is Courthouse News Service http://www.courthousenews.com/ -- you can set up "Dingers" for companies, clients and people that you are watching. Virginia Lawyers Weekly
http://www.valawyersweekly.com/ has a daily alert that is very useful. VLW also has a blog to which you can subscribe. http://www.valawyersweekly.com/vlwblog/
And of course, one cannot say enough about keeping up with what is happening to a company/client through news alerts or RSS feeds. There are lots of very useful free tools out there. One really powerful one is Google News -- you can choose what you want Google to monitor and how often you want to receive the news alerts. Almost all the major newspapers also have free alerts -- make use of those. And if these newspapers provide access to their articles through a free registration on their site, take advantage of that. Westlaw, Lexis and Bloomberg law also have substantial news databases that provide news alerts. Cost will vary depending on your contract.
Getting CI on a company or client is a multi-tiered strategy -- there is not one resource or tool that will do it all. There are hundreds of tools out there, this posting is just a small compilation of a few that I use most frequently. I hope they will help you in your CI quests.
Contribute by Evelyn M. Campbell