Irish SMEs need to make greater use of IT in order to drive efficiencies in their organisations, a survey of 600 SMEs across Ireland has revealed. Particular areas of concern are connectivity, usage of company websites to support sales and marketing, defense against computer viruses and hackers and skills and training for employees.
The latest E-Business Survey by Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (CCI) found that SMEs are reliant on external expertise for their IT support, with only one in five companies having dedicated internal IT staff. Some 21pc of companies had no technical support.
In terms of using the internet to market and promote their companies, only 56pc of SMEs had their own company website. The survey found that SMEs viewed sales and marketing opportunities as the main benefits associated with a company website. It enabled companies to market to a larger audience in a cost-effective manner. In terms of actual returns from websites, 44pc of respondents said their website generated more sales (24pc) and enquiries (22pc)
Email and web browsing are the most prevalent e-business applications for companies with internet access. The use of online banking (58pc) and revenue online services (41pc) were also to the fore.
Companies with a broadband connection had the highest usage across all e-business applications. The biggest IT concern for SMEs gong forward is the infection of their IT system from computer viruses, while security and confidentiality issues are less of a concern than they were in the past, still over one in four companies cite such as a “major problem” for their business.
On average SMEs will spend approximately 4.4pc of their turnover on IT in 2005. Some 38pc of companies anticipate their IT expenditure as a percentage of turnover will increase in 2005. However, a half of companies surveyed believed IT expenditure will remain the same.
According to Anne Cleary of the Irish Computer Society and also the chairwoman of the CCI’s Digital Policy Council, the need for official Ireland to invest in informing SMEs of the potential benefits to be accrued through the use of ICT extends not only to deploying broadband, filing taxes and pitching for government business but investing in upskilling and training workers in the use of technology.
“A large part of the problem is knowledge, particularly in the field of skills and training. It is not only about raising the provision of technology but also raising the skills of people working within SMEs. This is crucial. It is one thing to provide the hardware, but people won’t really take this onboard unless they are confident in the use of technology. The survey shows that companies that have internet access of any kind tend to use it for email and web browsing – the less skills intensive areas – and not for such things as online payments to suppliers.”
Cleary said there are programmes out there that businesses could glean major advantages from in ICT if only they knew. “FAS, for example, have a programme for training and upskilling people in private sector employment whereby the business pays 40pc of the cost of an approved course and FAS will pay the remaining 60pc.”
Knowledge, Cleary said, can make all the difference when it comes to Irish firms embracing broadband and other new technologies. She concluded: “Companies are indicating that they are concerned about their security online and protecting against viruses and fraud. Education therefore is vital. Security is important and businesses need to be wary but they should not allow it to become an obstacle to the efficient use of e-business.”
By John Kennedy