Structural capital is a special and critical element of intangible capital. It can be both an asset and a liability; it all depends on how stakeholders view the performance of your structural capital.
If you understand human and relationship capital, you can start a business. If your business creates strategic capital for your stakeholders, you can earn a good living. But you will never grow large or particularly rich with just these three kinds of intangible capital. This is because the leverage of intangible capital comes in the creation of structural capital, that is, knowledge that gets captured and institutionalized in an organization.
Structural capital is the supportive infrastructure that enables the rest of an organization to function in a repeatable, scalable way. It is owned by an organization and remains with an organization even when people leave. Structural capital includes processes, data, systems, designs, and knowledge. Some structural capital qualifies for special legal protection as intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.
Most structural capital can be used and re-used without diminishing its value. In fact, most structural capital improves with re-use. Think about a database or a process or a design. Each of these can be improved over time and the more users, the more the potential for improvement. There may be a cost for improvements but the marginal cost of re-use is essentially zero. This is why structural capital deserves a lot of attention.
When people say that “all our assets walk out the door at night” they are showing their ignorance of structural capital. A really successful business depends on people coming in every morning. Bit it also has standardized processes and shared knowledge that stay in the company when people go home at night.
Intangible capital measurement can help you ensure that you have the right structural capital to succeed when your employees arrive tomorrow morning.