Online Databases: Information Available Electronically
Hartman, Stephen W, Qureshi, Anique, Siegel, Joel G, The CPA Journal
Information available electronically
There has been a tremendous growth in the online database industry in terms of the number and types of databases, producers, and vendors. Never before has management had real-time access to such a vast amount of information resources. Online business databases improve decision making and analysis, allow management to add value by creating new products and services through information exchange and processing, and improve the bottom line. Online databases are a resource to be converted to useful information for decision making purposes. The real measure of the industry, however, is its actual use as measured by the number of online searches. Estimates produced by the major wordoriented database vendors show that the number of online searches increased from fewer than one million in 1974 to almost 60 million in 1993. These figures do not include financial transaction databases, such as databases for stocks, and electronic ordering. If they did, the total searches would be exponentially higher.
Presentation Methodology One way to classify databases is by presentation methodology. The methodologies include text, number, image (video), audio, electronic services, and software. The earliest public databases were text based, and they still are the predominant type of database. As of 1994, text based databases represented over 70% of all databases and are continuing to grow in number. The user performs searches using text phrases to find specific information. Text based databases include bibliographic, directory, dictionary, full text, and other.
Numeric databases are used primarily for transactions and for obtaining statistical information. They actually represent a declining proportion of all database types and in 1994 were less than 20% of all online databases. Multimedia audio and graphical databases are developing and gaining popularity. As of 1994, they represented five percent of all databases, but their actual number increased more than fivefold. One application of a multimedia database is in the real estate industry where clients can be taken on a "virtual visit" of a particular property without leaving the office. Bulletin-board services (BBS) are another form of online database that have a wide variety of downloadable data.
Commercial online services, such as America Online and CompuServe have extensive access to various business database providers. However, their primary function is to be a conduit for delivering databases developed by these providers.
The World Wide Web (Web) portion of the Internet has a rapidly increasing series of online business databases. These databases use multimedia graphical and audio features with hypertext links to other data and resources. Users need a web browser to read a graphical Web database. Web online business databases are a valuable resource because they link to other Internet resources including text files, Telnet, Gophers, Usenet newsgroups, and other portions of the Internet as required.
Another form of a multimedia database is the development of a vast number of CD-ROM business databases that interrelate audio, video, and text and allow the user search and download capabilities.
Faxback services are becoming popular and are a major source of timely business information. They are easy to use and provide a wide variety of information through a fax machine or fax modem.
Finally, there are many U.S. government databases online. These high quality databases contain extremely useful information and are often free of charge.
STAT-USA Online Service
The U.S. government has moved aggressively to provide extensive online database access. The Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce has created STAT-USA for providing U.S. government online databases. It has several databases on the Internet at http://www. …