Competitive intelligence is the act of understanding a company's industry and industry rivals so the company can make better business decisions, while business intelligence refers to the tools, software, and systems that play a vital role in the strategic planning process of a company.

Competitive intelligence is an acute type of market research conducted by a business. With competitive intelligence, businesses use the same type of tactics utilized when conducting market research; however, the focus is to answer more target questions rather than review broad market trends. Competitive intelligence can include the knowledge of a competitor's operations or business partners, as well as a deeper understanding of the industry in which a company operates.

Competitive intelligence is any material information a company possesses that allows it to make better-informed decisions than the average company in its industry. It does so to operate more efficiently. Conducting competitive intelligence allows a company to spot opportunities in the market and beat out its competitors. For example, a company might follow Twitter messages, blog posts, LinkedIn profiles, and email blasts to track what a competitor is doing.

Business intelligence represents the physical tools and software a company uses to gather intelligence and research. Companies then use that information to make decisions. These tools and software combine to make systems that allow a company to gather, store, and analyze raw business data in a way that helps it make the right decisions. Business intelligence systems normally operate to collect data in the areas of customer support, market research, competitive intelligence, product performance, and other statistical analyses.