Business Information at Work

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Keary, M. (2000), "Business Information at Work", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 216-238.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Information providers, information professionals and businesspeople all have different views when it comes to exploiting information. Lowe, as a lecturer in business information and an information professional himself, attempts to bridge the gap that separates us. Thus, he offers in this book a practical guide to information sources and services, as well as a theoretical analysis of various elements of businesses and external information.

Lowe defines business information as – “factors outside and largely beyond the control of the business, which have a direct commercial significance, and considers it to be information on external, macro or marketing environment.” It is from this point of view that he looks at particular types of information – company, market, financial, product and country information.

The opening chapter considers the relationship between a business and the external factors that affect it, by introducing the types of information and sources that it relies on for its business sense. Thus, the information they require could be on scientific management; about the environment for positioning themselves; or for strategic, operational and tactical decision making. Lowe then talks about the variability in demand and use, and draws attention to a Library Association study, which showed that businesses relied most on their internal information sources as a basis for commercial decisions.

He mentions some of the problems and advantages in exploiting information. In particular, the nature of documentary information, which can be a deterrent to the busy, pragmatic businessperson, who is more at home with a more tangible form of information gathering. In fact, most people are more comfortable using the evidence of their own eyes, ears and personal contacts. Consequently, the effects of use or non‐use of information are difficult to detect directly, and harder to quantify in financial terms.

One of the book’s objectives is to lead the user to appropriate sources of each of the many subjects and purposes discussed. Thus, the next five chapters guide the reader from company information to market information, financial information sometimes called “City information”, product information, and through to country information. In each of these, the author identifies primary and secondary sources, with additional helpful hints to meet specific users’ needs.

Business News and Industry sources differ from earlier chapters, as they cover the environment as a whole. The former trawls the environment for significant changes, whilst the latter does the same for particular industries. Lowe uses the same structure to describe sources, but he also highlights the importance of news to business, in particular, the need to know what is current, new or what has changed. He points to the crucial relationship between an enterprise and external factors that could affect its performance.

The problems of news information are diverse and unpredictable, in terms of subject and medium. The management challenge to suppliers and users of this type of information is that there are too many data with too little relevance. The inherent problems of missing information through filtering, the ephemeral nature of news and its unreliability are real. The author’s views on industry sources are limited to the chemical industry, and will not appeal to the general readership of this book.

The final chapter reviews current methods of accessing business information, with the aim of providing a bridge between the businessperson or the intermediary and the information sources described in this book. In particular, it concerns the interface between the user and potentially available information, which creates barriers such as the number and variety of sources, the lack of obvious congruence between a typical business problem, and the sources available. It also includes aids to overcome inherent problems, and to ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time.

Lowe draws attention to issues that concern current information management. In particular, the zeal with which IT people have taken up the information mantle, paying scant regard to the keepers of that domain: information professionals. He adds that, although these converts provide fresh solutions, they are not really tackling the root of the problem. Areas seen as critical include:

Information overload, with the availability of so many data, as well as software for the average businessperson. It is a danger that still exists. The author attempts to structure different strands of the day‐to‐day solution to this problem.

Knowledge management recently emerged from information management, to shake itself free from the dusty image of librarianship. The concept of knowledge management emphasises the difference between information – the raw material, and knowledge – information applied. It also acknowledges the roles of individuals and teams in creating, holding and sharing knowledge. The intranet is often cited in conjunction with knowledge management, as technology complementing an appropriate corporate strategy, and is described as “knowledge management software”. On the other hand, intelligent agents, data mining, push technology and other software, are new types of software that promise to bring the vast information resource back under control, or even to convert it into knowledge.

Disintermediation or professional intermediary is the rise of the enabled end‐user over the information intermediary, and may foresee the demise of this latter role. The author spells out the reasons for and against this development, and strongly supports the retention of the role of librarian/information manager/researcher as still being very necessary.

Finally, the author returns to his main theme of sources, with particular mention of their availability in electronic form. The needs remain the same – identifying the only source for the purpose, or the best, the cheapest and the most convenient. Other aspects are cost considerations and charging policies generally. The author completes his review of sources with a look at online hosts; a bibliography of business information bibliographies; and a list of additional knowledge sources. A very comprehensive review of information sources in one volume.

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