PHILADELPHIA -- No books or classes. Just one computer disk with all the information needed to make lots of money abroad.
That's the promise of Passport System, a software program produced by Getting Through Customs, a suburban Newtown Square, Pa., trade consulting company.
Passport System, introduced a year ago, is one of many computer programs being hawked by consulting companies and the Commerce Department to help businesses stay current on many topics. They say their products are a more convenient and less expensive means of educating employees than seminars and classroom instruction.
The Passport System software offers information on political climates, economic trends, marketing strategies and business cultures and protocols for 50 countries. Next month, it also will be "online" or through a mainframe computer, at the Export Network of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
About the same time, the Conference Board, a business research group in New York, will launch its own online consultation and information service for executives looking for updates on new laws, market trends and forecasts on the U.S. economy. Organizers say the program will eventually include information for business abroad.
The Conference Board's online service will let subscribers tap into a mainframe computer for late-breaking news and updated financial forecasts with a modem connecting their computers to the mainframe through telephone lines.
Many consultants are finding it makes economic sense for them to have their services available on computer programs.
Last year, Ernst & Young began providing management and tax advice on software to multinational clients who have employees abroad.
Its Expatriot Tracking System, which keeps track of personnel information, costs $7,500. A complementary program, designed to help managers calculate and budget for the cost of sending and keeping an employee abroad, costs $1,500. The complementary software is available for 31 countries -- each has the same price tag -- and can be updated for $400 each year.
Neither Conference Board nor Getting Through Customs has set prices for subscriptions to its online services.
Much of the information sold by consulting companies also is available from the U.S. government, sometimes at less cost. The government makes available political and economic information on specific countries, statistics for specific industries, and market research study results online and on compact disks.
Online subscriptions to the Office of Business Analysis' 5-year-old Economic Bulletin Board cost $35 per year and 20 cents per minute of use on weekdays and 5 cents per minute of use at night and on weekends. Information available includes statistics and government announcements.
The office's 1-year-old National Trade Data Bank, which includes country-specific and industry-specific statistics, is available on read-only memory compact discs or CD-ROM, issued every month for $35 each, said Ken Rogers, an economic analyst at the Office of Business Analysis.