Information Utility

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.)


Information Utility

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 ideas.

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.

The Solution

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.

Services Available

* 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.