Putting a price tag on information

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Guest Column

Intro: It seems that recently we are running into more and more technology industry visionaries who are saying we now have entered the “Age of Information.” At the recent Harvey Spencer Associates Capture Conference, for instance, author Chris Surdak showed a slide “Information is the New Wealth” that listed the top six companies in the world by market capitalization. Apple, Google, and Microsoft, which he said basically specialize in “information management” topped the slide, followed by more traditional companies like Exxon Mobile, Berkshire Hathaway and PetroChina. The problem is, as AIIM Chief Evangelist John Mancini points out in his excellent piece, there is no standard in place for measuring information as a tangible asset. 

 

Check it out:

By John Mancini, chief evangelist, AIIM

No company in the digital age could run without it and it is arguably the most important asset any organization has—but how do you put a price on information?

Intellectual property is listed as an intangible asset in financial reports. But there is no line on the balance sheet for information. No standard method or process for giving it a value, despite the fact that we are churning out more and more information every day. To put this into perspective it is estimated that Facebook users share around 2.5 million bits of content a minute. IBM estimates we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.

Information is coming at us from everywhere—from social media, purchase transactions, blogs, GPS data, sensors etc. This list is endless. The consumerization of IT, cloud, mobile, and the Internet of Things, have all contributed to a surge in big data that is literally changing our world and the way we operate in it.

Information is now one of a company’s most precious assets. When used correctly it can provide companies with a wealth of insight about their customers and competitors that can give them a business edge. Companies are investing heavily in protecting, securing, analyzing and documenting this data.

Business leaders increasingly talk about how information is their most valuable asset. Yet information still does not appear on the balance sheet. As Doug Laney, vice president at Gartner so concisely puts it: “We are in the midst of the information age, yet information is still considered a non-entity by antiquated standards”.

In this age of digital transformation, it comes as a surprise that there is no standard model for valuing information.

 

Accounting for information

As far as I can see, there is a growing gap between the traditional ways we value organizations, in terms of the tangible and intangible assets reported in financial statements, and the value the market puts on organisations. The huge sums paid for some companies shows our inability to measure and value the information assets of an organization.

According to Laney, in 1975 on average the tangible assets of a corporation represented 83% of its value. Today that number is 20%. Therefore, more than 50% of merger and acquisition exchange simply can’t be accounted for.

Take for example Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. Look at the accounting value of LinkedIn—$3.2 billion in revenues—and compare it to the price paid by Microsoft—$26 billion—and it doesn’t appear to make sense. We immediately start asking the obvious questions: Are we on the verge of another doc.com bubble?  Why is the accounting value of the company so different from its market value? Has Microsoft lost the plot?

The answer, I believe, is quite straightforward. The disharmony comes from our inability to measure and value information assets in an organization. This is reflected in the growing division between what we actually report about companies and what we actually inherently know about them. But it is also linked to the way we continually undervalue the investments companies have made in creating, analyzing, protecting and storing their data to create real customer value.

 

Finding a measure
The nearest thing we have to measuring information right now is ‘Infonomics’. This is essentially a framework for organizations to measure, manage, and monetize information as a real asset. But it has still to be taken on board fully by organizations.

Early this year, in a bid to come up an answer to assigning a value to information, AIIM brought together industry leaders in information management from the likes of Shell and Gartner, to discuss this pressing issue.

One particular point soon became crystal clear—we need a standardized way to measure the value of information, and we need it fast.  Although most organizations now understand how valuable their information is, they have no way of valuing it as an asset. This is an important job for information professionals and accountants to get to grips with over the coming months and years, and one that AIIM will be devoting considerable energy to.

As business becomes more and more information driven, it is imperative that there is a standard in place that can measure the usefulness and monetary value of information. How this is to be done has still to be decided. But it is a problem that isn’t going to go away.

For more information: www.aiim.org

 

 

 

 

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