Information Consultancy in Argentina - a Limited Profession

Article excerpt

The young online industry in Argentina shows promise. However, development of the industry is difficult, both technically and economically.

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS

ENTel, the national telephone company, provides noisy and unreliable telephone links. While ARPAC, the new packet switching data transmission network has reduced problems considerably, there are still too few nodes and direct access is expensive. Most people use the dial mode to communicate with a node, and from there, through satellite communications, to reach TYMNET or Telenet, the only networks available. In this way, access to any databank in the world is possible. The cost of international telecommunications follows the recommendations of the European standard CCITT. It includes 1) per hour cost; and 2) per kilosegment cost, which is an informationvolume-based cost, totaling approximately 30 U.S. dollars per hour. The last component of cost is almost unpredictable. I determined this amount by comparing and averaging figures in several of ENTel's invoices, knowing the sizes of files generated from search sessions. I've found that menu-driven hosts, like Delphi and DIALMAIL, are more expensive, in telecommunications terms, than command-driven hosts such as DIALOG and BRS. Another technical impediment is the insufficient number of standard telephone lines for the public as well as companies, severely limiting the market of users of online systems. ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

Economic drawbacks to online growth include high costs of both hardware and software for online services, and salaries for the specialized people necessary for commercial database production. These drawbacks might be set aside by companies or individuals, who, knowing the business and its potential, decide to invest. However, high inflation (now more than 10%/month) and high interest rates, are the biggest obstacles investors must overcome. Online activity is known by relatively few people. Mostly, online information access is known among professionals who have traveled or studied in the USA or Europe. It is such a new and sophisticated subject, that articles appear in newspapers commenting on its astonishing achievements. Of these few people mentioned above, fewer still are connected to international online services for their own internal use. The most widely known service is DIALOG. Others are less known, probably due to the lack of local representatives and publicity.

LOCAL DATABASES

General Videotex Corporation's Delphi system can be used as a gateway to reach Delphi USA and from there to DIALOG. It costs 10 U.S. dollars per hour to access Delphi. Several medical indexes will soon be locally available, such as the International Index of Cardiology, Pediatrics, Gynecology and Obstetrics, produced by the local Iberoamerican Society for Scientific Information (SIIC). The search cost for the SIIC database is still unknown.

Local databases are produced by government agencies or non-profit organizations, probably because private initiatives are much more concerned about the investment. The questions are universal: How many people or institutions will subscribe to the service? Will there be enough subscribers to recuperate the production investment in a reasonable time?

The following table indicates the state of the local databases as of January 1, 1988. It has been extracted from the publication Directory of Databases in Science and Technology in Argentina, prepared by the' National Secretary of Science and Technology.

Examples of the organizations which produce these databases, apart from the SIIC mentioned above, include:

* National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA)

* National Counsel for Scientific and Technical Investigations (CONICET)

* National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI)

* National University of Agronomic Sciences

* Agrentine Juridic Information System

The people who use these databases are somehow related to the organizations which produce them, such as investigators or consultants. …