Information as a Resource / Commodity

Information as a Resource / Commodity: The concept of information as commodity is wider than that of information as resource, as it incorporates the exchanges of information among the people and related activities as well as its use. The notion of information as a commodity is tied closely to the concept of value chains. With commoditized information gaining in value as it progresses through the various steps of creating, processing, storage, distribution, and use.

a) Information is a Resource / Commodity: Information possesses many characteristics that are the same as those of some other commodities. When we consider such characteristics, information can be termed as a resource and a commodity in a broad sense and people at large have accepted this view.

i) Information is a Natural Resource: Many resources were earlier taken for granted as common for all. For example, clean air and water. Information has also been similarly understood. Whoever is interested can get enough information for his daily needs through institutions established for that purpose. But specialized information is made accessible to those who have special needs and can legitimize its claim by status or by money. Just like the maintenance of clean air and water, the proper information demands some cost.

ii) Information is a Vital Resource: Information is looked upon as a resource like manpower, material and money. Information is a resource created by ingenuity of man to be used by man for the benefit of man; it can be used for the opposite also. According to K. J. McGarry, information becomes a resource by analogy with the classic resources of labour, capital and material. Management of these classic resources (man, material and money) now mutates to the “management of information”. It is easy to see how information can be depicted as a resource as essential to productive success as are raw materials and skilled staff. But information needs to be controlled, manipulated and managed.

According to W. L. Saunders, information is that type of resource which is not scarce. It has also economic value as when company uses the information effectively, the level of trade and revenue are maximized. Information and knowledge become the principal generators of wealth in the form of educational institutions of research and development establishment and science laboratories.

            No national development programme can succeed fully without proper information support. As such, it is regarded as a national resource like energy, coal, water, etc. vital for national development. It is an important input for nation building. The impact of fast, reliable and inexpensive information would be as great as that of electricity in national and international economy. IBM, the giant computer company, says that information is like an inexhaustible and renewable source of energy.

iii) Information is a Major Criterion: Information is vital for national development. The backwardness or forwardness of any county nowadays is mainly due to the use of adequate information, especially in the field of science and technology. Presently the world is divided on economic consideration into economically developed and economically developing countries. According to Herbert I. Schiller, in future the division will be based on possession of information into information rich or data rich nations and information poor or data poor nations.

iv) Information as a Thing: Buckland points out that in order to communicate knowledge it must be expressed or represented in some physical way as a signal, text or communication. Any such expression would, therefore, constitute information as a thing. The notion of information as resource attracts information economics and spreads to such diverse disciplines like management, transport and communication, consolidation and repackaging, pricing, marketing, distribution, exchange, etc.

v) Satisfies the Economic Principle: Information satisfies the economic principles of generation or gathering, processing, storage, dissemination, etc.

* Demand / Market: Information has a wider market. All people need information for some purpose or the other. There is a heavy demand for information from all around the world, so to get profit out of it, its production rate must increase.

* Information Generation: Information is generated mainly through research activities and research activities are highly price consuming business, which is just like other product whose production or manufacture involves a high cost.

* Protection: Information as a resource has been well established which is evident from the profusion of national and international laws and policies relating to storage, transmission and information related services including trans-border data flow. Just as in the case of various commodities or products, information is also protected by copyright and patent. However, the property right of information is weaker than the property rights of other goods we possess.

* Consumption: Information does not always flow across market. Within some private sectors information produced is entirely consumed within the organization itself, which is in the same line of other goods.

* Different Forms of Products: For the different categories of users, different forms of information are released into the market. In this regard it is just like any other services provided in the market place. Information is provided through books, magazines, business, news, investment, advice, legal advice, medical advice, consulting services, formal education through school, colleges and universities, etc. So, we do have markets for information and people buy it depending on its perceived value. In this respect information is like other goods and services.

* Transportation / Communication: High cost is involved when we use the information technology for communication and transportation of information just like any other product.

* Storage: If information is stored for a long period just like other consumable products it loses its value because particularly in case of science and technology, historical information is generally less valuable.

b) Information is not a Resource / Commodity: Judith Jordet complains about the notion that information is a commodity.  According to him, this notion will not only interfere with real knowledge creation, it will unravel what knowledge we have!  When information is seen as a commodity, the users are seen as customers consuming a commodity identified as information.  Users define usefulness.   If it is not used, it is not useful.  But in reality, how many users use all the information that are the product of large research investment, is itself a question. Again, against the view of information as a resource / commodity, the following arguments can be offered-

i) Shareable and not Exchangeable (Public Good): Most of the goods and services have the property that more for you means less for me; but in case of information, more for you does not mean less for me. Passing of information is not losing it.

ii) Assigning Value: It is very difficult to assign values to ideas because different people need information in different depth.

iii) Tax: Tax is not levied on information generation or its consumption; so it is not a commodity.

iv) Publicity: Before buying any other product or goods people know ahead of time what they are going to buy, but in case of information one will not be able to know the whole thing before buying it. If one knows the whole thing, then they may not feel the need to buy it.

v) Expandable and Compressible: Information increases with use, it can be expanded and compressed i.e it can be summarized, integrated, etc.

vi) Non Materiality Problem: The non-materiality of information creates several problems in respect of measurement, appropriateness, ownership, impact, costing, etc.

Information does not possess each and every property of other general resources or commodities but at the same time we also should not expect it to be. The people at large are favouring the view that information is a resource and a commodity.