UK businesses must get their electronic commerce act together, write Joanne Wallen and Michael Cross.
The UK government, Microsoft, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and speakers at a high-profile conference last week all said UK businesses are not doing enough to turn themselves into global electronic enterprises.
Companies should not be afraid to take the risk of 'cannibalising' their existing business with Internet sales. That's the message from the Grasping the Nettle - Emerging Global Opportunity conference, organised by the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.
Richard Sharp, head of European investment banking services at Goldman Sachs, told delegates: 'When companies have something to defend, they are at their most vulnerable.'
Instead, companies should compete aggressively. He cited Bank1 in the US, which set up a unit for online banking to 'undermine' Bank1's existing business. 'If you're not prepared to eat some of your own business, someone else will eat you instead,' Sharp said.
Businesses also came under fire in the UK government's 1999 International Benchmarking Study, released by trade and industry minister Stephen Byers.
The study shows small businesses lagging far behind their US counterparts.
'While our large and medium firms are at or near world-class levels, our small and micro firms lag behind their international competitors,' Byers warned.
UK small companies are almost three times less likely than their US counterparts to have a web site, and only 44% are connected to the web, the study revealed.
The government wants to see one million small companies trading online by 2002. Whitehall is spending £20 million over three years to get businesses online as part of its Budget proposals.
Microsoft UK managing director David Svendson said UK industry just doesn't get it.
'I'm struggling to understand why,' he said. 'The smaller companies are, the less enthusiastic they are.'
If the message still doesn't get through to UK businesses, the OECD - a high-level think tank with members from the US and 28 of the world's wealthiest countries - has agreed to investigate measures to narrow the information technology gap with the US.
The OECD is concerned about differing economic growth rates in Europe and the US, given that growth in the US is being driven by new technology - notably the Internet.
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