posted 2 Feb 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 5
Information and knowledge entrepreneurship opportunities abound in the new economy but many companies lack the competencies to fully exploit these. Colin Coulson-Thomas draws on the findings of several recent reports and offers would-be entrepreneurs guidance on how to proceed.
The contribution of 'know-how' to the value of final goods and services continues to rise and the economy is becoming increasingly knowledge-based. Individuals and companies face many opportunities to make money by packaging and selling information and knowledge.
Entrepreneurs in particular need to understand how to access share work with and exploit information. Its use should result in the development and application of knowledge and understanding that creates fresh intellectual capital and value for both customers and shareholders.
Some individuals and organisations suffer from an excess of information. Such a quantity of it is available in a variety of formats that busy people may struggle to keep up with the flow. Much of it is historic dated and not relevant to contemporary priorities and future concerns.
Hence there are opportunities to help people cope with the overload. Incoming information needs to be sifted screened and sorted; and that which is judged to be of value presented in ways that make it easier to absorb and understand. Increasingly people are demanding tailored packages of information that are relevant to their particular requirements issues or decisions. Commercial suppliers professional bodies and government agencies all have to develop bespoke intimate and iterative relationships with individuals.
Many information-based services have already been successfully launched by enterprising entrepreneurs: 'One-stop shop' and support services for professionals and knowledge workers include call forwarding and response services research assistance and the analysis and categorisation of email. Areas of opportunity include the provision of cover during illness and holidays or periods of peak workload.
Virtual departments provide services and capabilities that organisations are reluctant to establish internally. Maybe a requirement would not fully employ a 'whole person' or appropriate people cannot be recruited. Network partnerships bring together individuals who would not otherwise be able to work together in view of the barriers of distance and time.
Activities such as writing code designing web pages developing and implementing sales and marketing campaigns or auditing testing and monitoring can be undertaken remotely in almost any location. Having flexible access to an electronic tutor coach or counsellor or someone willing to act as an adviser or sounding board can be immensely valuable.
Opinion and other surveys and discussion and focus groups can be held online. Lobbying campaigns can be initiated and managed by email. Representative pressure can be stimulated assembled and presented to political and corporate decision-makers. Campaigns can be quickly organised using the Internet and mobile technologies as was evidenced during the September 2000 petrol crisis in the UK.
Various public relations activities can be undertaken by electronic means. Online catalogues bulletin boards newsletters and discussion groups can be initiated and supported with or without related advertising. Subscriber and advertisement fees can amount to a significant source of income. Emerging technologies represent additional channels of communication that can be very effective at reaching tightly defined target groups whose members are widely scattered.
Virtual stores sell goods which range from books and compact discs to Scottish Salmon and cakes. Packages of processes technologies and services can be assembled to cover almost every aspect of setting up an electronic business.
When new markets are created trading and brokering services are usually among the earliest forms of business to be established. They are also particularly suited to electronic operation. Individuals can trade for others and for themselves for example by investing on their own account.
Electronic publishing offers many opportunities including the provision of customised information services. Those who assemble particular packages of information knowledge and understanding can license them for the internal use of client networks and organisations or external use on various websites with a requirement for content.
So many opportunities are available that investors and corporate management teams are now realising that the more effective creation and exploitation of intellectual assets can boost share valuations. However according to the report Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value (1) most companies could do far more to derive full advantage from their intellectual property.
The survey team examined 51 companies that currently derive gross income of around £9.3b from their 'know-how' and expect income from 19 out of 20 key categories of intellectual property to grow over the next five years. Customer information design rights and R&D know-how are currently the three most significant income generators.
There were stark differences between the 'leaders' who are expecting intellectual capital revenues to grow substantially in the next five years and the 'laggards' who are expecting small or no growth during this period. For example:
- The 'leaders' are twice as likely to believe that paying more attention to intellectual property will improve shareholder value and that they have not explored enough opportunities for doing so.
- They are around four times as likely as the 'laggards' to be experiencing 'pressure from investors to do more to exploit intellectual capital'.
- The 'leaders' are expecting over 30 per cent revenue growth from five categories of know-how namely licences brands market intelligence website/Internet and management methodologies.
Much depends upon the energy and imagination of information entrepreneurs whose calling and business is the acquisition development and sharing of information knowledge and understanding. As discussed in The Information Entrepreneur (2) a guide written by this author they need to understand the opportunities being created by the greater availability and accessibility of information and knowledge and how to identify and exploit market opportunities for distinctive information and knowledge products and services.
They must know how to acquire develop share manage and capitalise upon information knowledge and understanding and help and enable others to effectively use and apply them. This may require combinations of emerging technologies to connect and network relevant people and organisations together and the competencies to network with others work and learn in new ways in order to create value lead and manage virtual teams and establish and manage knowledge businesses.
The Information Entrepreneur aims to provide practical help and guidance. Developed within the 3Com Active Business Initiative it is designed to stimulate a more pro-active approach to the development of information and knowledge-based businesses. All entrepreneurs have to identify opportunities to add value by meeting requirements that are not being addressed. They must be focused and tenacious and possess a clear sense of direction. Most entrepreneurs need also to be tough pragmatic and resilient.
The information entrepreneur needs a sufficient understanding of systems to be able to use an appropriate range of technologies to identify and access relevant sources of information knowledge and understanding. However technical expertise alone is unlikely to be enough. Communication and relationship building skills are also required to interact with information providers and assemble the combination of experience and knowledge needed to assemble a package that has market value.
Information entrepreneurs need curiosity and drive to undertake intelligent searches and to be able to judge or determine the significance relevance and value of what they uncover. Many more people can access information than assess it or use it effectively. Understanding where information has come from assumptions underlying its collection and how it has been compiled can be of critical importance if an enterprise or a course of action is not to be built upon foundations of sand.
People should be proactive in assessing developing and applying their personal knowledge and experience and think through the implications of the greater availability and accessibility of information and knowledge. Assessing impacts upon others may enable business opportunities to be identified.
According to Individuals and Enterprise (3) the creation of a new venture and the associated change of lifestyle should only be adopted by risk takers who are active leaders rather than passive followers and who initiate rather than copy. People should objectively assess whether they are 'talkers' or 'doers' and have the qualities and will to succeed and win.
Entrepreneurs act while windows of opportunity still exist. They prioritise focus and tackle the most important matters first. They build networks of those to whom they can turn for independent and objective advice. Particular deficiencies can be balanced by the complementary qualities of others. Business colleagues should have sound judgement of requirements situations people and opportunities. Shared values goals commitment information and knowledge can greatly increase the chances of success.
Information opportunities should be carefully assessed and in The Shape of Things to Come (4) I aim to provide checklists that directors and entrepreneurs can use to develop alternative approaches and differentiated offerings. There should be a clear prospect of 'adding value' by providing a distinct information service to an identifiable group of people who would be willing to pay for it. The further work that may need to be undertaken to put information into a form required by end users should be assessed and those who could undertake this identified.
Gaps in existing provision in terms of content format access and reliability should be reviewed. There might be other and better sources that could be used. Users might be prepared to pay for specific changes to be made. Publishing and Internet ventures can be cash hungry so any costs involved need to be recovered from subsequent user fees or subscriptions.
Perhaps availability responsiveness or hours of cover could be improved the flow speeded up 'on demand' access made available or 'help desk' support provided. Discontinuing services that are no longer required could reduce costs. There might be flows of information or specific expertise that could form a commercial package that would meet the needs of communities of people in the external marketplace. External 'start up' finance may be required to launch a service and there could be opportunities for collaborative ventures with other entities.
Information entrepreneurship cannot be left to the IT community. The report Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value examines the contributions of thirteen members of the corporate board and management team. It presents both case studies and lists of key action points to ensure the key factors that distinguish 'leaders' from 'laggards' when it comes to exploiting intellectual property are in place.
Success requires far more than the introduction of appropriate technology. In many companies current information is being captured and shared but new information and knowledge needs to be created and applied. Boards need to review corporate approaches to developing and exploiting intellectual property and provide appropriate incentives and direction. Intellectual capital should be valued re-valued and reported in annual reports and accounts and communications to staff.
Reward strategy should support the creation and exploitation of intellectual capital. Processes and procedures should be in place to monitor and measure learning information and knowledge sharing and the development and application of intellectual property.
Particular attention should be paid to the roles different management functions should play and to ensuring that people process and culture as well as IT issues are addressed. Investors and management teams will put more emphasis upon assessing potential for information entrepreneurship:
- Are information knowledge and understanding accounting for an increasing proportion of the value being generated for customers?
- Does the company actually have any competent information entrepreneurs?
- Are people encouraged to come forward with ideas for information and knowledge-based businesses?
- Do they actively create share package and apply new knowledge and understanding?
- Is relevant information and are appropriate knowledge tools techniques and support made available to help them and are these effectively used?
There are also various knowledge and intellectual property management issues to address:
- Have the different categories of intellectual capital been 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?
The last question is particularly important given the various different types of intellectual capital that can exist. Some means of coping with this diversity must be found if know-how is to be rapidly assembled sorted easily packaged protected quickly accessed and effectively applied. K-Frame developed by Cotoco Ltd (www.cotoco.com) which won the 2000 eBusiness Innovations Award for Knowledge Management can handle intellectual property in a wide range of data 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 facilities can also be included. The search function can cope with spelling mistakes and even look for words in audio files and voice-overs. Companies such as telecoms supplier Eyretel have used applications of K-Frame with configuration and pricing tools to support sales staff in the field who need to develop bespoke solutions and submit relatively complex proposals.
Information and knowledge-based businesses have been well represented among finalists for the e-Business Innovations awards (see 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 tracks to be purchased and downloaded via its website.
The overall winner of the 2000 e-Business Innovations awards for SMEs and the recipient of the 3Com Active Business Award was Atom Films of Seattle in the US (www.atomfilms.com). The company has created a web-based market for animated films with over two million movies being streamed in a month and another 500 000 films being downloaded.
So what are companies in general doing to create information entrepreneurs and emulate the success of awards winners? In spite of their importance the research report Developing a Corporate Learning Strategy5 reveals that far too little effort is being devoted to the critically important areas of e-business business development and entrepreneurship. Key business requirements such as winning bids and corporate venturing are largely ignored. Courses on 'empowerment' abound but not one of the companies examined devotes development resources to creating any form of intrapreneur.
Many members of the training and development community do not appear to be addressing key requirements for success in e-business and the knowledge economy (5):
- Enormous sums of money are devoted to exposing a diversity of people working on very different activities to common courses that have little relevance to their particular requirements and priorities. Enterprise requires individual initiative will and drive rather than collective understanding.
- Most training and development inputs do not reflect business development priorities or result in new strategic capabilities and intellectual capital outputs. Most learning centres and corporate universities merely recycle existing knowledge.
- Despite the enormous potential for income generation education training and development are rarely the vital source of knowledge intellectual capital and value for customers and shareholders they could so easily become.
Many companies large and small and a variety of public sector agencies need to urgently assess the relevance of information entrepreneurship and the potential for it within their organisations. To summarise there are a number of key questions which external investors and internal management and human resource teams need to address2&5:
- Is the company operating in a sector in which information knowledge and understanding are accounting for an increasing proportion of the value being generated for customers? What are the implications for personnel policies?
- Has the organisation agreed the competencies required by information entrepreneurs in its particular context? Have these been communicated? Is the training and development community aware of them?
- Are people encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and development and to come forward with ideas for information and knowledge-based businesses?
- Are people equipped to cope with information and knowledge flows and to create share package and apply new knowledge and understanding? Are relevant information knowledge tools techniques and support networks made available and used?
- Have the various forms of intellectual capital been 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? Can it handle intellectual property in a wide range of print presentation audio animation and video formats.
- Is the organisation's reward strategy consistent with corporate goals and objectives and particularly the generation of value for customers and the creation and exploitation of intellectual capital? Is the acquisition of competencies and learning rewarded?
- Are processes and procedures in place to monitor and measure the extent of learning information and knowledge sharing and intellectual capital creation and exploitation that is occurring?
Information and knowledge entrepreneurship opportunities abound. What most organisations lack are the drive competencies tools and knowledge management framework to exploit them. The steps that need to be taken have been clearly highlighted by recent reports. Investors and independent directors should continue to apply pressure until they are taken.
1. Sarah Perrin Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value (Policy Publications 2000)
2. Colin Coulson-Thomas The Information Entrepreneur (3Com Active Business Unit 2000)
3. Colin Coulson-Thomas Individuals and Enterprise Creating Entrepreneurs for the New Millennium through Personal Transformation (Blackhall Publishing 1999)
4. Colin Coulson-Thomas The Shape of Things to Come (Blackhall Publishing 2000)
5. Colin Coulson-Thomas Developing a Corporate Learning Strategy - The Key Knowledge Management Challenge for the HR Function (Policy Publications 1999)
Brochures describing the Managing Intellectual Capital to Grow Shareholder Value and Developing a Corporate Learning Strategy reports can be obtained by telephoning 01234 328448 from www.ntwkfirm.com/bookshop/ or by email from: email@example.com
The Information Entrepreneur by Colin Coulson-Thomas can be ordered by telephoning freephone 0800 222 222 via www.ntwkfirm.com/bookshop/ or by visiting the 3Com website at: www.3Com.co.uk/active-business
Colin Coulson-Thomas is chairman of ASK Europe plc chairman of the judges for the e-Business Innovations awards professor of Competitiveness and an active adviser on knowledge management and information and knowledge entrepreneurship. He can can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org