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At Your Service In the service industry? This tracking survey will help you get the information you need.

By Crystal Detamore-Rodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The U.S. Census Bureau is finally giving the services sector itsdue. Its new quarterly survey of service-industry activity willgive businesses information to monitor industry trends, make hiringdecisions and develop immediate operational strategies."It's the start of a broader effort by the Census Bureauto give us a better picture of the importance that services play inour economy," says Bob Vastine, president of the Coalition ofService Industries in Washington, DC.

As the Census Bureau's first new economic indicator in 30years, the first "Quarterly Services Survey" was releasedon September 13, 2004, and covered the fourth quarter of 2003 andthe first and second quarters of 2004. The study measures operatingrevenue across three basic service sectors: the information sector;the professional, scientific and technical services sector; and theadministrative and support, waste management and remediationservices sector. Included in this first round of data aretelecommunications, software publishing, computer system design,media and employment services. In 2005, the survey will incorporatedata from hospitals and nursing and residential-carefacilities.

While service industries account for half of U.S. economicactivity, the previous data collection didn't reflect thesector's growing significance. Indeed, the only measurement ofservice-industry activity came from economic censuses taken everyfive years and an annual survey. It left a critical measurementgap, which was evident in the aftermath of the dotcom bust in thelate 1990s. Access to more timely statistical data would no doubthave helped some business owners avoid serious missteps at thetime. "We would have known better what was happening, while itwas happening, because of this survey," Vastine says.

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