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Knowledge: It's Power, and Here's How to Get a Chunk
by Janet and Debra Traylor

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Business Gazette, (October 3, 1996 ) and is reprinted here with permission.

If information is power, today's exploding access to data should make us all potentates. But how do you decide which are the best sources of information and the most cost-effective use of research tools?

Mark Goldstein, president of International Research Center, an information broker and contract provider of research in Tempe, is heavily involved in the transition to an information economy and in the discussion of how best to understand and take advantage of the quickly changing environment. He knows a lot about data compilation, assimilation and organization. Goldstein spoke at a recent workshop sponsored by the Arizona Chapter of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals. He offered tips on gathering data.

First, consider cost. Goldstein distinguishes between the Internet, or World Wide Web, and what he calls transactional databases, also known as data providers or aggregators. These services combine thousands of databases from multiple providers in a consistently accessible form with sophisticated retrieval tools. Transactional databases include such industrial-strength tools as Lexis-Nexis and Dialog. They offer business directories and bibliographical material for a fee.

In contrast, information from the Internet often is available online at no charge. However, Goldstein notes, "free" is a relative term. "Sometimes you must balance cost against time," he says. "Good material is often available free on the Internet, but it takes time to locate, and it's often difficult to navigate. Sometimes I'd rather pay a transactional provider and get it quicker."

Security is another consideration. Sending online requests in an unencrypted form can reveal your search to competitors. An even greater risk, Goldstein says, is the vulnerability of passwords that access expensive transactional products.

Still, Goldstein maintains that the Web is essential for thorough research. "As recently as two years ago, I got only about 10 percent of my electronic data from the Internet, and 90 percent from transactional data providers," he says. "Now, I'm getting maybe 70 percent from the Internet. It offers unique content that is invaluable and cannot be accessed any other way." Even smaller companies may display names and contact information on the Web. Also, they may offer complete international distribution lists, short biographies of their executives, and white papers or market research they have sponsored.

Market-research companies themselves may offer helpful online information. "There's a way to search for existing market-research reports," Goldstein says. "It can be one of the best values; you can get enormously useful information without buying expensive reports." Also, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and news releases from public companies are available at no charge. Such information can help determine competitors' offerings and potential niche-market targets for sales.

Researchers can ask for immediate feedback through topical discussion groups where people congregate online. Posing a question related to your product or company "is a no-cost way of getting a little focus group of interested and often very knowledgeable people," he says.

In addition to electronic sources, Goldstein gets about a third of his data by talking to trade associations, industry experts or librarians. "A lot of information is still not available online," he says. "The Web is cool, but it's far from complete." For those who take comfort in books, Goldstein says hard copy is far from dead. A visit to the library can pay off. "Many of the Gale directories, for example, are accessible online, but they're very expensive. Many public libraries have that or other databases available on site for free."

Goldstein recommends that business owners develop their own lists of 50 to 200 sites (addresses or uniform resource locators, known as URLs) that have high value. "You can keep them in the background of your word processor as a hot list, or use the bookmark feature of your browser to return to them on a periodic, sporadic or scheduled basis," he says.

With so much information available, it's tempting to glorify it, but don't overestimate the value of sheer data. Capturing information is only the first step in competitive intelligence. To translate data into something useful, what must follow are rigorous analysis and strategic thinking.

The Phoenix Central Library is presenting Mark Goldstein on "The Internet: Help for Small Business Owners -- What's Out There That Can Help Me Today." It's free (along with breakfast) and will be held Oct. 29 from 7:30 to 9 a.m. To register, call (602) 495-5054. Goldstein's research guide, which outlines technology, telecommunications, policy and research resources available on the Internet, is $12.95 per copy. To order, call Goldstein at (602) 470-0389 or e-mail For more about the Arizona Chapter of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, call Barbara Orr at (602) 236-2420.