Doing Business in the Information Age

We are slowly moving, I believe, into an economy where knowledge is a commodity. People have noted recently that we are moving into a service economy from a manufacturing economy. We often hear about the "information age." But I am not sure that it is very well understood what the real effects of a knowledge-based economy might be.

What would become of the travel industry as we know it? The travel agent you called up to book the trip, or to suggest which hotels to look at or which places to see, would not have to be a travel agent at all. It is easy enough to book your own reservations if you have a computer today. This ability has not killed the travel industry because not that many people have computers and because it hardly seems worth the effort when the travel agent is easily available by phone. Some companies have, in fact, become their own travel agents, but infrequent users do not spend the time to learn how to book reservations.

Deciding to use a computer to search an unfamiliar database, with unfamiliar commands, is not a decision any but the most bold computer users take lightly. However, this situation will change and will change fast. In the future you might be able to use your computer to "travel to France," for example and see videos about places you might visit, ask experts about what you see, and book reservations. When the accessible database you interact with grows to contain more detailed and better packaged information than any one travel agent could possible know, the travel agent on the corner will be out of business.

Some travel agents might stay in business if they provided the services available through the computer, but as I have said, this is not absolutely necessary. In any case, the real competitive advantage in this business will be in the providing of video. The provider who makes the best video available, the best hotel expert, the best champagne expert, the best sightseeing planner, even the best language training program, would be the one who would get the computer user's attention and hence his business.

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