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The value of information

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve probably said something like this before, but it’s worth saying again.

This was part of a post by Amelia Kassel of MarketingBase – on the AIIP member mailing list.

I recall someone in a workshop I gave about using the Internet for CI about 10 years ago. I introduced the concept of fee-based databases and a young fellow from a business analyst firm raised his hand in front of group of more than 30 participants to stop me from proceeding. He didn’t want to hear or learn about fee-based databases. He had tried them once and they were too hard to use. I asked what he did when couldn’t find information he was looking for on the Internet and he didn’t have an answer but said it didn’t really matter.

I’ve also come across attitudes such as this – why pay for information when you can find it for free. That would be true and valid if the time required to find the information, and the work required to put it into a usable format, was the same. In reality this is rarely the case. The advantage of paying for information from services such as Factiva, Dialog and several other similar services is that you can save a lot of time. The information purchased will be formatted consistently – so it becomes much easier to edit for a report.

Further, relevant information is collected together so there is no need to check hundreds of potential sources. These services index thousands of sources in a way that users of the free services, including Google, can only dream about. As an example, on Factiva, you can specify that search terms appear in the first 50 (or 100 or whatever) words of an article, or within so many words of another term. They support full Boolean searching and wildcard searching far beyond what even the advanced search in Exalead offers.

If that was all such services offered then there could be an argument that with today’s budgetary constraints, good researchers would first focus on the free sources. However many sources held won’t even be available on the free web, as their publishers only make them available on a pay-to-use basis or don’t keep full online archives. This means that unless the researcher has accounts with a multitude of publishers they won’t get the material they need for decision making.

I think part of the secret of being a good researcher is knowing when to use free sources and when to use fee sources. I’m sure that a proportion of the information that is available on pay-to-use sources could be found for free – IF you looked long and hard enough. However employers pay you for your time – and just because something is free doesn’t make it really free if you have had to spend a day finding it when you could have got it within 15 minutes by paying. Then there’s the risk factors of NOT finding something at all!

People who feel it doesn’t matter – that you can justify not paying for information – are actually high-risk employees. They may provide information that allows correct decision making to be made 80% of the time. Unfortunately the Pareto effect comes into play – and that 20% of the time they get it wrong represents 80% of the risk. Decisions made on inadequate data are likely to lead to serious consequences when they are wrong. Saying that you only did a Google search because Factiva cost too much won’t save you or your company in such situations – as it will be too late.

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