Takeup of ADSL, the broadband service launched last year by Eircom and Esat BT, is 13pc among Irish SMEs according to the latest Chambers of Commerce of Ireland e-Business Survey 2003, published today. The growth is mirrored in a 3pc drop in the use of both ISDN and telephone connections as a means of accessing the internet.
Eircom and Esat BT may be disappointed by the adoption rates but will be even more concerned at the customer reaction to the quality of the service. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) connected to the internet through broadband expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction (24pc) with customer support. Satisfaction with the reliability of the service was also marginally lower among broadband customers than among businesses still using ISDN and dial-up phone connections.
On the more positive side, of the 92pc of businesses that now have access to the internet, those with faster connections are starting to explore more sophisticated e-business interaction. Only 32pc of SMEs with a standard telephone connection take online receipt of orders from customers, but the figure jumps to 54pc for ISDN customers and up to 63pc for broadband users. Online payments increase from 22pc over a telephone connection to 38pc for ISDN, rising to 52pc for broadband customers.
Once again the Chambers survey found signs of regional disparity with internet access at its lowest, just 75pc, in the West of Ireland compared to around 90pc in all other regions.
The survey also revealed a worrying and ingrained reluctance among offline businesses to change their ways. Just over half are ‘very unlikely’ and 11pc are ‘rather unlikely’ to connect to the internet within the next 12 months.
On broader issues of business technology, more than two fifths (42pc) of firms predict that their IT expenditure as a percentage of turnover will have increased during 2003 compared to 2002 with an average of just over 5pc invested in ICT. Less than one in ten SMEs expected IT expenditure to have dropped. Just over 50pc of respondents rely on external IT support, compared with 25pc who have dedicated staff, and a further 22pc who rely on staff with IT responsibility in addition to their core roles.
The e-Business Survey was carried out by Mori MRC among 600 chamber member businesses.
By Ian Campbell