THE potential value of benchmarking as a business tool is enormous, but still remains largely untapped in Hong Kong. Many leading companies are finding benchmarking - the process where companies study another organisation's best practices in order to develop and enhance their own - a useful survival tool. It enables many groups to learn from the success of other firms as part of a continuing search for excellence. Sidney Yuen, managing director of Royce HR Management Consultants, helped to launch the Hong Kong Benchmarking Clearing House at a seminar last March. The non-profit-making organisation, of which he is joint director, allows its members to share information and experiences on benchmarking. It acts as a clearing house collecting non-confidential information from member companies to form a database. The organisation also relays the questions of those seeking help to other members who can offer solutions. Mr Yuen, who initiated the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) Quality Award in 1991, and who is currently the chairman of the award scheme's board of examiners, said the benchmarking organisation was going from strength to strength. ''The clearing house has three functions - networking, data collection and providing training support,'' Mr Yuen said. ''The members who join us understand they have to share information. It's about sharing the processes and exchanging ideas, not about gathering information or competitors.'' Mr Yuen said the potential of Total Quality Management (TQM) - which the clearing house was helping to promote - was ''limitless'' in Hong Kong. ''There's so much to do, so much to learn,'' he said. ''The companies which are going to be successful in the future are the learning organisations. ''In TQM, a company's staff works as a team. TQM works from the perspective of customers. ''Traditional companies divide into functions. They have a vertical approach - a silo approach with their management. ''TQM has flatter management: it gets together teams from different departments to work together. ''The first step in getting TQM in place in a company is to get these people - employees and management - together and make them feel it's all right. The principle is to drive out fear in management.'' Mr Yuen said the benchmarking organisation had yet to begin marketing itself in the territory. ''We feel that, if people understand the concept, they will not feel threatened. The clearing house is about education and we want the concept to spread throughout Hong Kong.'' He and other founding members of the organisation were all leaders of Hong Kong's business community: Arthur Andersen & Co, the Chase Manhattan Bank, Federal Express Pacific Inc, IBM China/Hong Kong, the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, the Orient Overseas Container Line, Rank Xerox (Hong Kong), Royce HR Management Consultants, Standard Chartered Bank and Survey Research Hong Kong. Mr Yuen said the founding members were all dedicated to continuously improving the products and services they had given their customers. He said: ''The improvement of their key business processes by benchmarking them against other companies is a vital part of their commitment to their customers.'' Mr Yuen said members came from both multinational and local Hong Kong companies, and the benefits of joining included: Structured opportunities for networking in the territory. Access to the names of others interested in improving the same or similar processes. Assistance in promoting the concept of benchmarking within a member's company. Fast access to the benchmarking organisation's database. Assistance in benchmarking training. Support in meeting the benchmarking requirements for the HKMA Quality Award. The availability of models on how to organise a company's benchmarking efforts, as well as assistance in how to integrate them into the overall business strategy. ''The whole TQM concept is the way you run your business,' said Mr Yuen. ''TQM does not solve your problems. What it does is focus the mind-set of your employees to serve your customers.''