Plinius

Monday, September 22, 2008

PL 46/08: Free tools for rapid change

Filed under: future, statistics — plinius @ 8:29 pm

Small is beautiful. Particularly on the web.

In his bestselling book, “The world is flat”, Thomas Friedman described the removal of barriers to trade, exchange and interaction.  The well-known web economist Hal Varian writes on he democratization of data. He refers mainly to small businesses:

Information that once was available to only a select few is now available to everyone.

This is particularly true for small businesses. Fifteen years ago, only the big retailers could afford intelligent cash registers that tracked inventory and produced detailed daily reports. Nowadays cash registers are just PCs with a different user interface, and the smallest mom and pop retailer can track sales and inventory on a daily basis. A decade ago, only the big multinational corporations could afford systems to allow for international calling, videoconferencing, and document sharing.

Now startups with a handful of people can use voice over IP, video, wikis and Google Docs to share information. These technological advances have led to the rise of “micro multinationals” which can leverage creativity and talent across the globe. Even tiny companies can now have a worldwide reach.

Dedication to data

This is true beyond the business sector, however. Public institutions – schools, universities, research institutes, libraries and museums – can also benefit from “trickle down productivity” . Varian notes that search technology provides answers to questions that only companies with large research libraries could answer decades ago.

Big business is data intensive. Companies like Wal-Mart, Benetton and IKEA keep a very close watch on their operations. Sales and profits, stocks and shortages, cash flows and credits are scrutinized – often day by day, category by category, item by item. This dedication  to data analysis helps management adapt rapidly to new trends, cutting losses and gaining leverage at an early stage.

Follow the customer

Businesses depend on the market. They collapse if their customers take their custom elsewhere. Public bodies depend on the state – which seems eternal. But libraries and other service organizations must also learn to “follow the customer”.

Some monuments are protected by their aura. The Eiffel Tower will not be sold as scrap iron.  London Bridge will not fall down. Oslo’s Vigeland Park (picture) will not be covered by office buildings.

But these are exceptions. In the years ahead, libraries, schools and universities must pay much more attention to demand. In a knowledge economy, all knowledge institutions are exposed to market pressures and conditions. Public institutions will not be exempted. The Bologna process does not promote European education – it promotes a European market in education

Hal Varian’s analysis is therefore applicable to libraries as well as to companies. We must watch our publics and patrons and visitors. We must collect data on a continuous basis. We must study, analyze and discuss the statistics, and we must use the results to adapt our services to new demands and realities.

Ligthly and sprightly like dancing elephants ..

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