Widely sought for a host of different uses, business information has been transformed by mainstream access to information technology, and in particular, by widespread access to the Internet. The broad concept of business information encompasses all kinds of quantitative and qualitative information, on either a macro or micro level, about companies, products, markets, corporate leaders, industries, ideas, philosophies, and practices.
TYPES OF RESEARCH.
Business information is organized and disseminated in a variety of ways, often requiring savvy researchers to approach their topic from multiple angles. It may be classified by the subject matter (e.g., international company profiles), by the nature of the source (e.g., Internet sites, government data), or by the end use it serves (e.g., to find a job). Ultimately, of course, the end use drives the research process. Some of the most common end uses are:
- Market research. Businesses conduct market research to gauge the current or potential demand for their products or services. Sources for market research may report household or business demographics, provide sales leads, analyze competitors' strengths and weaknesses in the market, or describe attitudes or opinions about a class of products or services.
- Competitive intelligence. Closely related to market research, competitive intelligence is targeted specifically at finding information about established or emerging competitors. It may not directly involve the market, though, and can include information about competitors' financial condition, their logistics and management practices, new products, and business alliances.
- Financial markets. The financial markets generate a vast quantity of business information. Publicly traded companies and investment funds are required by law to make regular and detailed disclosures about their operations, and investment brokerages and the business press likewise produce a continuous stream of stock-related information.
- Regulation, taxation, and general economic fact-finding. These are the initial end uses for government-collected data, often to satisfy statutory requirements, but that data is also used frequently in the private sector as well. Data that originated for government or general public benefit is often reused in business applications, as is, for example, census data in market research.
- Consumer interest and job hunting. General business information is published for consumers and job hunters, including such basic facts as company contact information and general profiles of well-known corporations.
TYPES OF SOURCES.
Tens of thousands of publications and databases provide business information. Below are some of the most commonly used types.
- Business monographs and textbooks are simply books published on a particular business topic or field, such as employee relations, management theory, or corporate scandals.
- Mainstream news media include the print and electronic output from major news organizations and periodicals. Some examples are news wires, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and CNNfn (a television and web venture of the Cable News Network).
- Trade journals and newsletters, often published by trade associations or specialized publishers, report on specific industries or professions and have narrow audiences. Examples include Advertising Age and Management Review. Articles from many trade journals, as well as mainstream print sources, are widely available through periodical indexing services such as LEXIS-NEXIS and Infotrac.
- Company literature consists of press releases, brochures, annual reports, and other documents distributed by companies directly to the public. At larger companies much of this information is now published on the Internet, although it is also common to find corporate Internet sites that have been neglected for years, forcing researchers to fall back on more traditional methods like calling the company.
- Government publications and databases are usually bare-bones repositories of data collected by the numerous government agencies. Many books are published by the Government Printing Office (GPO) and distributed through its retail or direct-order channels, but specific agencies also release a great deal directly to the public through other means, particularly the Internet. Examples include STAT-USA (a web-based database of reports on foreign trade and macroeconomic indicators), the Annual Survey of Manufactures, and the EDGAR database (a collection of public company filings maintained by the Securities and Exchange Commission).
- Market research reports are detailed and usually very current studiesften replete with forecastsf market segments, market share, and trends. They are frequently expensive and some may be custom, unpublished research done for a specific company. Well-known market research firms include International Data Corporation (IDC), Frost & Sullivan, the Gartner Group, and several of the large accounting and management consulting firms.
- Investment research is compiled by brokerages for their clients and by publishers for a broader audience. These reports are typically very timely and may offer investment recommendations. For a more general audience, recent stock quotes and other basic information are available freely at many business web sites.
- Directories and almanacs are serials or databases that enumerate basic facts about one or more subjects. They may be used to generate mailing lists or to gain information on selected companies, among other applications. Common formats include company directories and yearbooks on various industries or markets.
This list is far from comprehensive, but it indicates the quantity and diversity of resources available for finding business information. It should also be noted that some information products, typically sold to companies, libraries, or other institutions, combine the functions of several of the types of sources described here. These integrated reference sources often are distributed on CD-ROM or through a subscription database, and they can greatly simplify the research process. For example, a single company entry may contain all the contact information and financial statistics of a directory, describe the company's history in a several-page narrative, offer links to recent news stories about the company, and provide an overview of that company's industry and its place within the industry.
EFFECTS OF THE INTERNET.
As the list above suggests, the Internet has had a profound impact on the availability and timeliness of business information. It has made available to the general public many forms of information that previously came to the average researcher either secondhand or after months of delay. As a result, many major business publications that were formerly available only in print are now offered online, and sometimes with greater detail and currency than is possible in print. Indeed, online sources represent significant competition for traditional business media. The Internet's main drawbacks, however, are its lack of organization and the questionable reliability of information published on obscure sites. Still, it offers cautious and persistent business researchers enormous benefits of fast and often inexpensive access to current and diverse information.
SEE ALSO: Business Press; Competitive Intelligence (CI); Market Research
Butler, F. Patrick. Business Research Sources: A Reference Navigator. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Encyclopedia of Business Information Sources. Detroit: The Gale Group, annual.
Freed, Melvyn L., Virgil P. Diodato, and David A. Rouse. Business Information Desk Reference: Where to Find Answers to Business Questions. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1998.
Lavin, Michael. Business Information: How to Find It, How to Use It. 2nd ed. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1992.
Pagell, Ruth A., and Michael Halperin. International Business Information: How to Find It, How to Use It. 2nd ed. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1998.
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