Many of the UKs small businesses are falling behind the competition as technology progresses, according to a new comprehensive report developed by the Centre for Future Studies, an independent forecasting think-tank. By failing to recognise the need for the effective management and use of their IT and Communications (IT&C) many small businesses are unable to meet customer demands and expectations. In a world of e-business and converged networks the report shows that business as usual could result in business failure.
The report, which is sponsored by BT Business, is a comprehensive analysis of the capabilities of small businesses and how they match up to consumer expectations. With an estimated 4.3 million SMEs in the UK, accounting for half of the UKs turnover and employment, smaller businesses are now generating twice as many jobs as large employers and are providing real growth in the graduate job market.
The report shows that SMEs do understand the importance that technology plays in their business with 86 per cent acknowledging that technology is pivotal to their long term success. But whilst they are doing their best to embrace technology they are having difficulty managing it and ultimately identifying where their business is falling down.
The problem stems from owner-managers being specialists in their industry, but not in IT management, leaving them unable to adequately assess their own and the competency of their employees to optimise their IT&C hardware and applications.
The majority of owner-managers do not feel that they are missing the necessary expertise. Four out of five (79 per cent) do not think their business lacks IT skills and only nine per cent are dissatisfied with the technical skills of their staff. However, more in-depth interviews found that up to half of small businesses have deficiencies in their IT knowledge and skills and, as a result are unable to manage IT&C technologies to optimise the benefits for their business.
This is further compounded by a lack of resources. They are unable to employ a dedicated IT&C professional and instead are over-reliant on family and friends to provide IT advice. What is clear is that, across the board, essential skills in managing, purchasing and operating IT&C are missing to a greater or lesser degree. SMEs lack a single and trusted source to advise them or provide an extension to their in-house team to manage through change and crisis.
Commenting on these results, Bill Murphy, managing director, BT Business, said that «at BT we are dedicated to helping SMEs thrive, helping them to access the skills essential to plan for, buy and manage the IT and Communications technologies essential to optimise their business potential. Our IT Manager Service is just one example of how we are providing support and expertise for SMEs that allows them to get on with managing their core business. We urge other businesses and organisations to join us as we seek to expand the knowledge base of UK SMEs, develop their capabilities and help them build for the future, driving forward their contribution to UK plc ».
Being able to get the most out of IT and services through good management is not just about gaining or maintaining competitive advantage, it is about keeping up with the demands and expectations of the customer, which now make IT skills mandatory: in particular, the rise of e-business and the growth in demand for online trading services from both customers and suppliers.
Dr Frank Shaw, Foresight director, Centre for Future Studies, concluded that «consumer expectations are increasing as they experience a better level of service. All of this is driving IT investment and SMEs need to deliver on service whilst also accommodating changing work patterns which meet their employees expectations. Innovation is the key if SMEs want to compete in todays domestic and world markets».
Em Foco – Projecto