A company balance sheet lists current and long-term assets, including inventory, accounts receivable, cash, property and equipment. However, the most important assets — the factors that define the company and provide the greatest competitive advantage — are sometimes less obvious. Employees, customer relationships and corporate data, for example, provide far greater value and competitive advantage than traditional assets such as a stock portfolio or desktop printer.

For years, companies have recognized the linkage between employees and competitive advantage of the business and have invested in their people through training, education and development. More recently, firms recognizing the value of customer relationships have invested in CRM systems and even customer intimacy programs. However, the latter would be useless without safeguarding the most valuable asset of all: information.

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