The usefulness of intellectual capital metrics in the knowledge society: a Delphi study

Teresa Torres-Coronas,Ricard Monclús-Guitart, Arantxa Vidal-Blasco, Mario Arias-Oliva


Over the past several years there have been intensive discussions about the importance of intellectual capital –IC- within the business world. The management of IC is promoted as an important and necessary factor for organisational survival and maintenance of competitive strength. One of the main quests in the knowledge economy, especially among the accounting profession, is nothing less than to make the intangible tangible; to ideally have it all on tap and accounted for in strict financial terms. There is evidence that indicators of intellectual capital are leading indicators of future financial wealth.

There is also a growing criticism that the traditional balance sheet does not take account of those intangible factors that largely determine a company’s value and its growth prospects. The ‘unreported’ assets are on average 5-10 times those of the tangible assets. Furthermore several studies show that future growth is determined not by historical financial accounts but by factors such as management skills, innovation capability, brands and the collective know-how of the workforce. Consequently more organizations are starting to address the measurement and management of IC.

There are several different approaches to measuring IC. One category includes those that take an organization’s reported figures and adjust them to remove ‘anomalies’ of traditional accounting such as the EVA model. Other approach considers the various categories of IC, from which are developed various measures. Here, a starting point is to divide IC into several categories. A typical classification is as follows:

  1. Human Capital – that in the minds of individuals: knowledge, competences, experience, know-how etc.
  2. Structural Capital – “that which is left after employees go home for the night”: processes, information systems, databases etc.
  3. Relationship (or Customer) Capital – customer relationships, brands, trademarks etc.

An expanded set of IC metrics opens up a major opportunity to apply new analytic tools for assessing organizational performance in the knowledge society:

  • Organizations will be able to better estimate their performance in regard to knowledge assets.
  • New kinds of IC indicators could improve the resource allocation decisions capital resources.
  • Financial reports a balanced of physical as well as intangible assets.
  • Intellectual capital metrics uncertainly could help business leaders and financial markets to better value “intangible assets” and predict outcomes with greater clarity.

In summary, each metric has to have a purpose. Treating IC metrics as simply a numbers game is worthless. Every user of IC measures needs to find useful information. And this is the main focus of our proposed paper.

We have conducted a Delphi study in Spain to determine the factors that affect the usefulness and convenience of IC new metrics from the information’s user point of view. A broad group of factors were examined in depth, by expert consensus, to be important at the conclusion of this study. This paper concludes that at present there are still significant measurement problems to be addressed with respect to IC metrics and reports.

The main contribution of this paper is to show that IC metrics are not broadly accepted from the information’s user point of view. Disclosure rules still needs to change so information’s users can be armed with a more uniform, less subjective and more robust way of measuring IC in the knowledge society. If the user can not trust them, IC metrics will remain both useless and worthless.

Over time, the IC metrics will evolve, continuing to identify value creation drivers, while remaining sufficiently flexible so it can adapt to the constantly changing nature of companies in the connected economy. Further work in terms of measurement and its utility need to be done to validate the information produced from intellectual capital metrics so that meaningful analysis of the organizational IC can be performed.