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We ask Ville Vanhala, Senior Vice President of Information Resources at GIA for his thoughts on the subject.
Can you briefly tell us about the information products market?
“The biggest and most reputed providers of business information for international businesses are still found in the United States or United Kingdom. Some Chinese and Latin American database companies have become more aggressive in promoting themselves recently, but we find that most companies still prefer to rely on international players and well-known companies to cover global markets.
It is helpful to know the local players, if you are focusing on just one market. There is a growing demand for information products that cover emerging markets such as Russia, India or China, so you find such smaller localized companies helping to provide news feeds for global information aggregators.”
Have standards for international information products improved?
For the most part, any one information source will not be comprehensive enough. An information aggregator won’t have the full range of companies your want to evaluate or all the news publications you want to monitor.
Information is often not up to date. Financial results may be one or two years old, when fresh information is already available in other sources. Some details of companies or products may be inaccurate.”
Can you give some quick tips on getting information from commercial vendors?
“Some publications such as VIP Magazine and Information World Review help to provide comparisons of information sources and can be helpful for the initial overview and decision regarding which databases to subscribe to.
Things to consider include customer service, prices and terms of subscription. What is the minimum number of user licenses? Can you pay for a corporate wide license and unlimited access to data or “pay as you go”? Are there restrictions on how information that is retrieved may be distributed within a company? Is the provider well respected?
Even when you have subscribed to a service, you still need to keep a healthy skepticism about the data. It helps to pay attention to the details. If you are looking at a report on a company’s accounts for instance, check that you are looking at consolidated figures or just a part of the company or a subsidiary. This may not always be obvious. Also, you need to know if the information has been standardized to follow a certain structure or if it is in its original format. For example, some line items may have been grouped in a different way from the original income statement. This could affect how you assess a company’s profitability. One also has to be careful with exchange rates, when the information provider has used a different currency from the original source.
The indexing or categories differ from one database to another, so it is easy to miss important news articles or reports if you choose the wrong industry sector, for example. It is good to also check what news sources or report publishers are tracked by an aggregator, and if they are covered comprehensively or selectively. At times, you still need to search the original publisher’s own web stores to ensure that you get all the information that they can offer.”
Do you have any other advice to pass on?
“If you are spending large amounts of money on business information products, it is important to compare prices. You may find the same report or company list at a significantly lower cost in another database. In some databases, reports can be included at a fixed annual fee, in other databases you may need to pay separately for each report. One option may make better economic sense than the other, depending on your needs.
At the end of the day, decision makers usually cannot rely on just one or two information products or databases for the basis for their decisions. They need specialists who can search such databases to retrieve relevant information and complement that with details from other sources, such as company websites, recent postings with official company registries and primary research.
It definitely helps if you have a partner who is familiar with the broadest possible range of information products and is able to help you assess their strengths and weaknesses, set up trials and negotiate prices.”
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