The purpose of this paper is to investigate how the use of information literacy can maintain the competitive edge of a business. This will entail analyzing how businesses can use information literacy skills to boost their market share. According to Long and Shrikhande (2007) information literacy refers to an ability to get, use, and appraise information with the goal of facilitating learning. This is in order to foster problem solving, as well as the generation of new knowledge. The Work Group on Information Competence (1995) defines information literacy as “the fusion or integration of library literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, technological literacy, critical thinking, ethics, and communication skills”. The underlying point in the two definitions is the presence and use of information to the benefit of the individual or organization. Information literacy is a crucial factor as it allows the presence of information when needed. It also allows the location and estimation of the available information. Some sources refer to the early 21st century as the “information age” because of the widespread presence of sources and output of information (Klusek & Bornstein, 2006; Kirton & Barham, 2005). On the other hand, a competitive edge refers to retaining a significant lead over the competition based on some elements of marketing that potential customers might value (Katz, Haras, & Blaszczynski, 2010). A business that has a competitive edge means that it easily stands out in an industry and always has a ready flow of customers (Cooney, 2005).
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Michael Porter came up with the idea of competitive advantage in 1985 (Feldman, 2004). This was an attempt to deal with the criticisms of comparative advantage. Researchers had pointed out some glaring oversights of using comparative advantage such as the tendency to concentrate production on the comparatively best product rather than the totally best one (International ICT Literacy Panel, 2002). On the other side, information literacy came into being in 1974 from a report by Paul G. Zurkowski (Katz, 2005). The report was for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences. Critics have pointed out that the idea of information literacy is too broad and overwhelming (Kirton & Barham, 2005). This is because the idea cuts across all disciplines and professions. Information literacy may be useful not only in the workplace, but also in an individual’s personal life. For instance, research has it that the information students acquire in graduate school becomes outdated within a significantly short time (Katz & Smith-Macklin, 2007). As a result, employers are never certain that the information acquired by the student will be useful within the corporate setting. The use of information literacy by such employers and potential employees will enable them fill the gap that recent developments in research may create (Long & Shrikande, 2007).
Of significant notice is the existence of a relationship between the competitive advantage and information literacy. An organization with high information literacy has high competitive advantage (Katz & Smith-Macklin, 2007). This is because information literacy is crucial towards ensuring that there is a continuous improvement of organizations (Cooney, 2005). Today’s market is full of competitors that can ground organizations that lack improvement. There is a continued need for businesses to gather and use information from stakeholders. The organization that readily acquires feedback from its customers will most likely produce products that satisfy (Kirton & Barham, 2005). For instance, when the company suddenly begins to experience losses, the management can easily retrieve the customer’s feedback in order to analyze the trend. The organization that does not have efficient literacy skills risks experiencing continued losses, as the cause of the problem may be difficult to pinpoint.
Having a competitive edge means that the company should tap the best talent in the market (Katz, 2005). Information literacy will enable the company executives to know what they want in their employees. The executives will go for professionals who will benefit the organization extensively. In addition, businesses depend on highly competent professionals with the right orientation to maintain high information literacy (Kirton & Barham, 2005). Such professionals will guide the organization in the measures to take in order to maximize profits and minimize losses. For instance, professionals will use their accumulated knowledge and experience to foresee likely problems and advise the organization to change tact. This is only possible when companies have high levels of information literacy. Thus, information literacy is more of an asset than a liability to the organization (Katz, Haras, & Blaszczynski, 2010).
Efficient use of information literacy has helped many businesses to succeed (International ICT Literacy Panel, 2002). This is because it helps organizations find out the needs and opinions of customers. One example that comes to mind is Costco Wholesale Corporation. Costco is the largest warehouse company in the United States of America (Feldman, 2004). According to Fieldman (2004), the company has outdone most of its competitors like Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club by relying on information literacy. Costco has an advantage over the rest of the companies given its low prices, high employee motivation (because of the good remuneration) and a comprehensive membership policy. The differentiated branding, in addition to private label products, enables Costco to provide an upscale club experience to members. This allows Costco to gain market share and, at the same time, increase sales per square foot (Fieldman, 2004). The company also sells membership to owners of small businesses. This practice helps to capture the highest income population in discount retailing. Most of Costco's products are practical and frequently used goods that people need. Costco allows buying of these products in bulk at cheap prices. Besides, Costco's expansion enables accessibility of their warehouses by many customers. These advances are only possible when the company has conducted research into the needs and opinions of both staff and clients. Achieving of such goals requires the presence high level of information literacy in the organization (Fieldman, 2004).
Besides, company executives who depend on information literacy are effective decision makers (Kirton & Barham, 2005). This is because such executives will come up with informed decisions that will prove to be the most outstanding for the organization. According to the Work Group on Information Competence (1995), Information literacy entails the integration of library literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, technological literacy, critical thinking, ethics, and communication skills. Managers who employ all these literacy skills will acquire an exemplary mastering of their organization and, as a result, be efficient (Neely, 2006). The decisions made by managers who have information literacy will be superior to those made by companies lacking information literacy. This will translate to the availability of new ideas that will make the company competitive. Indeed, Cooney (2005) posits that the lack of information literacy skills in a business can be detrimental to the organization. This is because managers are not likely to identify the business opportunities that the market may present.
Companies should not underestimate the significance of information literacy to their wellbeing. Just like in the example of Costco Wholesale Corporation, organizations should exploit information literacy to boost their competitive edge. This could be through the constant production of new products and ideas in the market. It could also entail adding the speed of a business enterprise in order to respond to the speed of the market. Information literacy will also enable companies to hire employees that will be most beneficial. Such employees will reciprocate by bettering the information literacy in the company. This means that information literacy is significantly crucial for everyone in today’s market.
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