Definition: Information utility can mean one of two things:
1. A central source of information for an organisation or group;
2. The provision of information as a utility (in the style of traditional
utilities such as energy, water, etc.)
The Information Economy
For many years now we have been told that we are making the transition from an
‘Industrial economy’, an economy based on the production of tangible goods, to
an ‘Information economy’, an economy based on the production of knowledge and
It is in this vein that the concept of information as a utility has arisen – the
idea that information is a commodity on which can be placed a specific value,
and which is necessary for the successful management of an enterprise.
Importance of the Information Utility in Business
It has long been understood that enterprises succeed or fail on the strength of
their knowledge. Essentially, knowledge is power. In a competitive marketplace
the enterprise in possession of the best knowledge - and the ability to make use
of that knowledge effectively - will gain a competitive edge over the
competition, and therefore will be much more likely to lead the market.
Timely access to knowledge, therefore, is vital in determining the success or
failure of any enterprise.
Challenges in Information Utility
The problem, however, is the fact that information comes at a high price. The
cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining the hardware and software
necessary to run an enterprise can be an enormous drain on financial resources.
Many smaller enterprises cannot, in fact, afford the IT equipment necessary to
realise their objectives.
It can be especially frustrating for those in charge of the purse strings when
they are forced to pay through the nose for vital services that are, however,
only required occasionally. Though the services may be necessary, the ROI may
not be exceptional considering the infrequent use.
Many enterprises and government organisations, therefore, opt instead to treat
the provision of certain IT resources as a utility, much the same as their
supply of power and water. Instead of financing the purchase of an extremely
expensive internal system of hardware and software to provide the information
services for an enterprise, some enterprises would prefer instead to treat their
IT services as a commodity to be turned on and off depending on need.
In recent years entire industries have grown to provide these services, and
millions have been spent on the infrastructure to provide them. Today it is
possible to access a wide range of information services that can be provided as
and when required at a relatively low cost to the enterprise.
* Network Security
From the provision of a firewall and virus protection to the authentication of
users, network security services can be provided to protect the integrity of
commercial data and other the IT infrastructure. Rather than providing on-site
network security the service can be provided remotely, or can come in the form
of such software packages as McAfee enterprise protection applications.
* Web Server Hosting
For the provision of web space for corporate web sites as well as Intranets,
hosting is a service that is often delegated to outside enterprises. The cost of
hosting and managing onsite web servers can often prove prohibitive for many
enterprises, so the option of turning the service into a utility can be very
attractive (list of web hosting providers)
* File Server Hosting
In addition to purchasing space for a web site and Intranet, it can also often
be cost effective to outsource the job of information storage. Rather than
maintain extensive systems for the storage and distribution of business related
information it can be more cost-effective and convenient to invest in a
dedicated hosting service to store and distribute the information required by
the enterprise (i.e. customer databases, statistical data, etc.).
* E-mail Services
A service often delegated to service providers, e-mail services such as Webmail
enable communication and collaboration between members of an enterprise.
However, administering an in-house e-mail server can be much more expensive than
using an e-mail hosting service.
The Future of Information Utility
As communications technology improves, the speed of Internet connections becomes
less of a barrier for the transmission of data. In the coming years we should
see many services that depend on high-speed data transfer to become available as
outsourced services rather than in-house. In the near future, with increases in
connection speeds and continuing reductions in the cost of memory, there should
be no need for many enterprises to devote any resources at all to onsite data
storage, instead storing them on remote servers and only accessing information
as and when required.