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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
Creating information entrepreneurs
Creating information entrepreneurs
Keywords Entrepreneurs, Information
The European economy is increasingly knowledge based, and the proportion of the value of goods and services accounted for by "know-how" continues to rise. Both individuals and organisations have unprecedented opportunities to make money by packaging and selling information and knowledge. Contemporary entrepreneurs need to understand how to access, share, work with and apply information in a variety of formats. Developing and applying knowledge and understanding, and creating and exploiting intellectual capital is becoming the prime source of customer and shareholder value.
If anything, too much information is available. Much of it is unrelated to contemporary priorities and concerns and many of us are overloaded. We need help. Entrepreneurs can sift, screen and sort information and knowledge to produce tailored packages that are relevant to particular requirements, issues or decisions. They can also present it in ways that aid absorption and facilitate understanding.
Available support services for busy people include call forwarding and handling, the analysis and processing of e-mail, and the provision of cover during illness and holidays, or periods of peak workload. Work can be re-directed to back up and specialist providers, and online assistance from counselling and coaching to catalogues, bulletin boards, newsletters and discussion groups is available.
Virtual stores offer a diversity of goods from books and CDs to fresh fish from Cornwall. Packages of processes, technologies and support covering most aspects of setting up an electronic business can be readily acquired. Trading, brokering and customised information services can operate from almost any location with access to the Internet.
There are so many possibilities for exploiting know-how that the creation and exploitation of intellectual assets can significantly boost share valuations. A recent investigation studied 51 companies that derive gross income of around £9.3B from their "know-how". The resulting report Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value (Perrin, 2000) reveals that they expect revenues from 19 out of 20 key categories of intellectual capital to increase.
The report divides the companies examined into "leaders" who expect intellectual capital revenues to rise substantially in the next five years and "laggards" who foresee little or no growth during this period. The "leaders" are twice as likely to believe that paying more attention to intellectual capital will improve shareholder value, and they are around four times as likely as the "laggards" to be experiencing "pressure from investors to do more to exploit intellectual capital".
Much will depend upon the energy and imagination of information entrepreneurs who understand how to make money by acquiring, creating, packaging and exploiting various forms of know-how. They are alert to opportunities created by the greater availability and accessibility of information and knowledge, and can identify and exploit market opportunities for distinctive information and knowledge based offerings. Their skill is to acquire, develop, share, manage and capitalise upon information, knowledge and understanding, and help and enable others to effectively use and apply them.
The Information Entrepreneur (Coulson-Thomas, 2000) guide provides practical help and guidance. Developed within the 3Com Active Business Initiative for European companies it is designed to stimulate a more pro-active approach to the development of information and knowledge based businesses.
The information entrepreneur uses an appropriate range of technologies to identify and access relevant sources of information, knowledge and understanding. However, more than technical expertise is required. Relationships may have to be forged with a diversity of information providers to access the combination of experience and knowledge needed to assemble a package that has market value.
Information entrepreneurs must have the curiosity and drive to undertake intelligent searches and the judgement to determine the significance, relevance and value of what they uncover. They do not grow on trees. Many more people can access information than assess it or use it effectively. Understanding where information has come from, and how it has been compiled can be of critical importance in preventing courses of action being built upon foundations of sand.
Individuals need to assess, develop and apply their personal knowledge and experience and think through the implications of the greater availability and accessibility of information and knowledge. Evaluating their impacts upon others may enable business opportunities to be identified. Before tackling them, people should objectively assess whether they have the personal qualities and requirements for successful entrepreneurship (Coulson-Thomas, 1999a).
Information opportunities themselves should be carefully evaluated. There should be a clear opportunity to "add value" to a current situation by providing a distinct information service to an identifiable group of people who would be willing to pay for it. Where information needs to put into a form required by end users, the cost of this should be assessed, and individuals who could undertake this work identified.
There might be gaps in existing provision in terms of content, format, access and reliability, and perhaps alternative and better sources could be identified. Users might be prepared to pay for specific improvements to be made. Some or all of the costs incurred might also be recoverable from user fees or subscriptions.
Entrepreneurs need to question and challenge. Could availability or responsiveness be improved? What about "on demand" access or "help desk" support? There might be flows of information, or specific expertise, within a corporation that could form a commercial package that would meet the needs of communities of people in the external marketplace.
Information entrepreneurship is too important to the European economy to be left to the IT community. Success requires far more than simply putting appropriate data-warehousing or other technologies in place. Significant investments may need to be made in learning and the development of new knowledge and intellectual capital. In too many companies most people are consumers rather than producers of "know-how". Current information is being captured and shared, but new knowledge is not being created and exploited.
Investors and management teams need to ask fundamental questions. Are information, knowledge and understanding accounting for an increasing proportion of the value generated for customers? Are people encouraged to suggest ideas for information and knowledge based businesses? Do they create, share, package and apply new knowledge and understanding? Are relevant information, knowledge, tools, techniques and support made available and used? Do training and development inputs lead to knowledge and intellectual capital outputs?
The last question is particularly critical. A recent study of the corporate learning plans, priorities and strategies of 69 organisations (Coulson-Thomas, 1999b) found that not one of them was taking steps to develop entrepreneurs of any form. General programmes in areas such as "empowerment" were being offered but important areas such as winning bids, building key account relationships and e-business were largely overlooked.
Another vital consideration is whether different categories of know-how are being identified and protected. Are they fully exploited, and is their revenue contribution monitored? Is an appropriate framework used to capture and store intellectual capital in a variety of forms? K-Frame developed by Cotoco Ltd which won the 2000 eBusiness Innovations Award for Knowledge Management handles intellectual property in a wide range of print, presentation, audio, animation and video formats.
K-Frame (www.k-frame.com) allows intellectual capital from text and spreadsheets to multimedia and information off the Internet to be captured and stored within a single portable framework. Knowledge creation and report and presentation generation tools can be included. The search function can cope with spelling mistakes and even look for words in audio files and voice-overs.
Knowledge management frameworks and tools need to be complemented by a reward strategy that supports the creation and exploitation of intellectual capital. Processes and procedures should also be in place to monitor and measure learning, information and knowledge sharing, and intellectual capital creation and exploitation.
Information and knowledge based businesses have been well represented among finalists for the e-Business Innovations Awards (www.ecommerce-awards.com). In some cases, new markets for certain forms of intellectual capital have been created. Thus Photodisc offers an image library of over 75,000 high resolution images and personalised information services, while Music Now allows music tracks to be purchased and downloaded via its Web site.
The overall winner of the 2000 e-Business Innovations Awards for SMEs at the OECD entreprise summit in Bologna and recipient of the 3Com Active Business Award was Atom Films of Seatle in the USA. The company has created a Web-based market for animated films. Over two million movies are streamed every month with another 500,000 films being downloaded. If more effort were put into the development of information entrepreneurs maybe next year's winner could be a European organisation.
Details of "Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value" and "Developing a Corporate Learning Strategy" can be obtained by telephoning 01234 328448, from www.ntwfirm.com/bookshop or by email from firstname.lastname@example.org
The Information Entrepreneur and Individuals and Enterprise can be ordered via www.ntwfirm.com/bookshop
Coulson-Thomas, C. (1999a), Individuals and Enterprise, Creating Entrepreneurs for the New Millennium, Blackhall Publishing, Dublin.
Coulson-Thomas, C. (1999b), Developing a Corporate Learning Strategy, the Key Knowledge Management Challenge for the HR Function, Policy Publications, Bedford.
Coulson-Thomas, C. (2000), The Information Entrepreneur, 3Com Active Business Unit.
Perrin, S. (2000), Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value, Policy Publications, Bedford.