Because of the massive shift in economic activity from manufacturing and mass production toward service and information exchange, the modern economy is quite different from the one about which most economic theory and measurement were developed. Economic growth, for firms and for nations, is no longer simply a matter of producing more with fewer resources (i.e. productivity), but rather a matter of better matching supply to a progressively heterogeneous demand. Living standards and economic growth depend on the productivity of economic resources as well as the quality of output that those resources generate.
The implication of the modern economy for companies is immense. Let us try to understand this by isolating what has changed and what has not. For example, the value of fast, reliable, and accurate data for decision making will continue to grow, but at an accelerating pace. As before, few things are as important to the performance of firms as its measurement. And data are the basis for measurement. The problem is that many of the most critical areas of performance measurement are not yet well established.
It is not that the major economic objective for companies has changed. The objective is still to create assets that maximize economic returns. However, the nature of the assets and their measurement have changed. Tangible assets, such as factory, plants, inventory, etc., are not the most important assets in the modern economy. For most firms, the so-called intangible assets are now much more meaningful. They contribute more to market value than traditional (and tangible) assets. The most critical intangible asset is the strength and magnitude of the firm’s customer relationships. A good measurement of these relationships makes it possible to relate such assets with the income derived from them. This is fundamental to management and to investment. Traditional accounting leaves the customer relationships (and other important intangible assets) off the balance sheet and thus produces financial reports that give a distorted view of how a company makes money. If accounting were to incorporate customer satisfaction as an asset on the balance sheet, there would be a better understanding of the relationship between a company’s current condition and its future capacity to produce wealth.