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Opinion pieces on business & economic issues

NOH Jae-Bum

Create Value by Sharing Information

NOH Jae-Bum

Feb. 2, 2005

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In this Age of Information, people use information to create value. They can also create power by sharing it.

Business companies raise market share by systematically collecting information on consumer needs and responding with relevant goods and services. Production costs are cut and profits maximized when they acquire sufficient information on where they can obtain quality and quantity resources. Stockmarket investors may gain higher returns by acquiring a variety of information ranging from market movements to industry forecasts, from domestic to external economic conditions. Thus all members of a society, be they companies or individuals, can accumulate wealth and power by possessing and making use of relevant information.

But the simple possession of information is in itself hardly sufficient. Information has no meaning apart from efforts to build knowledge. "It takes more than pearls to make a necklace," goes an old Korean saying. If we understand information to be the pearls, the art of stringing them means knowledge; and matching the two means creating value in the form of a necklace. The key point in this process is having the ability to select from a wide array of information and organizing it into knowledge.

Consider the case of the fashion industry. To cope with frequent weather changes, Korea's apparel makers have developed special marketing skills. One clothing manufacturer has set up a database to track the weather, including the average temperature and cumulative precipitation. It uses this information to determine the right season to sell certain fashions. The manufacturer checks weather conditions on a weekly basis, adding more detailed information such as humidity, and low and high temperatures. This constitutes a good example of turning information into knowledge.

Another step to building knowledge is by sharing information. A recent newspaper article provides an informative example. Introducing a unique management strategy of a successful food service chain specializing in "Yukgaejang,"a spicy Korean soup with shredded beef and various vegetables, the article explained how cooks and nutritionists at this chain constantly shared ideas to provide delicious meals and efficient service, by sharing even smallest bits of advice, the prime example of which is how best to prepare Yukgaejang soup ("it should be boiled at medium heat"). The article also talks of how one of the food chains promptly delivered information that a company in that area was planning to change their food services, so they should immediately take action. Such quick sharing of information has contributed to expanding the company's sales network. This information sharing is indispensable to a company trying to stay ahead of competition.

The Apollo 13 lunar-landing mission in 1970 was progressing smoothly when an oxygen tank in the Apollo module ruptured and damaged the life support system at 20,000 miles away from earth. The three-man Apollo crew began suffering from temperatures well below the freezing point, and an increasing amount of carbon dioxide.

On the ground, mission control immediately called an emergency meeting and brought in all related engineers. After they brainstormed and shared information, they concluded that the astronauts in the Apollo capsule could make an air purifier by using hoses, funnels, and toilet paper rolls. The near disaster was averted because the various engineers, mission chief and astronauts worked as a team to share their knowledge in full force.

Within the competitive companies, executives examine and analyze failures to glean a lesson. They know that sometimes failures can be crucial assets in enhancing their competitiveness. Unused Information is worthless. The more information and knowledge are shared and used, the greater becomes their worth. This is why information-shring, in the 21 st century, can become a "crystal ball"or "magic wand.

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