The dissemination of already available business information by public and private sector institutions in many developing countries and economies in transition has often been poor. It has often happened that the public-good character and external benefits of business information have not been sufficiently recognized by governments with the result that such information has not been made available to the business sector. Frequently, user-unfriendly data formats render information retrieval cumbersome and costly. Producers of business information, such as departments of statistics, customs departments, ministries of trade, central banks [etc], should therefore ensure effective dissemination of their data to meet the requirements of the local and international business community and the interested public. Whenever possible, they should take advantage of modern information technology to provide their data in machine-readable form such as CD-ROM and on-line databases, and pay particular attention to user-friendly formats.
The price of business information is largely determined by the production cost and demand in developed market economies, which are the major producers and users of this information. This renders business information very expensive in relation to locally available inputs in developing countries and economies in transition and often implies an effective exclusion from direct access to this important input. Users of business information therefore need to create cooperative structures with a view to obtaining access to business information at advantageous prices (collective subscriptions, pooling of database interrogations, etc.). Similarly, suppliers of business information, possibly in collaboration with national and international trade promotion institutions, should explore possibilities of offering preferential prices to users from developing countries and economies in transition as well as accepting payment in local currencies. Business associations and national and international trade promotion organizations should contribute to reducing the cost of business information by drawing the attention of users to particularly cost-efficient sources (preparation of annotated guides to sources) through bulk orders, collective subscriptions [etc]. Governments should make foreign exchange freely available for the purchase of business information.
There is an acute shortage of expertise in developing countries and economies in transition on how to make the best use of business information in terms of the selection of the most appropriate sources, cost-effective access, and action-oriented analysis and interpretation. This tends to exacerbate the problem of exclusion. Training capacities for more effective use of business information have to be upgraded in developing countries and economies in transition. This should include the strengthening of local training institutions (training of trainers) as well as specialized training assistance to trade promotion institutions, business associations and the enterprise sector.
Access to business information is further complicated through inadequate postal, telecommunications and related services in many developing countries and economies in transition. The telecommunications infrastructure - from telephone lines to packet switching networks - needs therefore to be improved in many developing countries and economies in transition to permit effective access to business information sources. Trade Points have an important role to play by testing and using available telecommunications facilities, such as Internet, for cost-effective data communication.
The weakness of business information centres of the public sector and business associations in developing countries and economies in transition often prevents them from being effective intermediaries of business information. Public and private business information centres should therefore strengthen their capacity as intermediaries and interpreters of business information required in particular by small and medium-size enterprises. This implies adaptation to the absorption capacity of users (for instance through analysis, help desks, etc) and a better presence in provincial areas.
Compilation and analysis of business information from different sources is complicated by the use of different data formats, nomenclatures and coding systems by information producers. Additional efforts should therefore be made by national and international organizations to increase awareness among producers and users on existing standards and coding systems ([eg] EDIFACT for data interchange, COMREG for company registers, HS for product classification), and to provide guidance and training on how to use these effectively. Suppliers and users of business information should ensure that these guidelines are applied, and should be involved in the further development of such standards.