Information at your fingertips

The web can be a valuable source of data for firms wanting to penetrate new markets or keep tabs on competitors

Information is power is an often-used maxim. In the past information was difficult to get hold of but with the advent of the web this has changed radically, as vast quantities of data become available every day.

The information available falls into three basic types, all of which can be easily extracted from the internet. The first is `internal’ data about a website’s users. When your website is established, it is vital to discuss with the designer and your internet service provider the user data you require from it. Rather than just counting the number of hits, data gathering should include the source of enquiry, the interaction and so on.

A site can be designed to register the email address of everyone who visits it, which can provide a useful database of current and potential customers. Using standard data-analysis techniques, this can help you identify potential new customers and new markets to enter. The different types of information the system can provide are quite extensive and should be chosen carefully on the basis of what your desired outcome is.

The second research resource is information about competitors. Companies provide extensive information about themselves on their websites, which can be a two-edged sword. Depending on what they give away a little internet research could give you a real edge when it comes to closing a sale or even negotiating a price.

Finally, and perhaps one of the web’s greatest strengths, is the wealth of general information it provides. The judicial use of the search engines can yield useful information about almost any subject – whether it’s technical information about products or processes, buying components, looking at a supplier catalogue or searching the patent library.

The DTI-led Information Society Initiative has a network of nearly 100 centres staffed by advisers who can give independent, jargon-free advice on all aspects of the internet and new technologies. For further information, contact the ISI Infoline on 0845 715 2000 or log onto

Compiled by the Information Society Initiative in association with The Engineer

Day-to-day data collecting

* Define your objectives and measure results against them

* Agree measurable items with your internet service provider

* Use data-analysis techniques to identify potential new markets

* Incorporate web-user feedback into your evaluation

* Compare information on your competitors’ websites offers a free trading service that can be added to the site to record and analyse users’ behaviour.