InterForum, an industry organisation formed to encourage the use of networking technology among UK businesses published its third white paper earlier this week, focusing on the future of e-commerce in the UK.
The white paper, called ?Electronic Commerce the Challenge for UK business? warns that ?an organisation without e-commerce may struggle to make it to the next millennium.?
The report, from the not-for-profit association, whose members include IBM, BT Microsoft and Sun, argues that while the amount of Internet commerce in the UK is currently low, ?these levels are set to explode as technology vendors deliver mature products to the market.?
IBM, which set up an e-commerce think tank last December, estimates that by 2015 e-commerce will account for over half of all retailing.
The paper is endorsed by Barbara Roche, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Firms: ?Electronic commerce is not just a new market for selling. It is a new market. This will effect relationships with customers, suppliers and employers, particularly business accounting and financial systems.?
After summarising what it sees as the main benefits from conducting business on-line - better customer service, increased sales, and reduced operating costs - the report identifies an e-commerce action plan.
Key measures include developing a strategic plan, identifying the appropriate networking infrastructure, carrying out a pilot plan and only then integrating the new system into the existing infrastructure.
But the battle for business hearts and minds needs to start with SMEs (small to medium sized businesses), according to Ken Fraser, principal consultant at Dataquest: ?The real issue here is the skills and man hours involved with setting up an e-commerce system, he said.
?You can buy the construction of a system but it has to be updated regularly otherwise it?s guaranteed to fail. You need one person to run it and that?s a big outlay for a small company.?
Fraser added that e-commerce will drag SMEs into the global marketplace: ?Many SMEs are not used to operating outside the UK but once they start up a Web site, orders will come flooding in from all continents and it becomes impossible to remain purely a national business.?
A representative for the DTI acknowledged the concern over Internet take-up among SMEs: ?Some SMEs don?t even know what IT kit to buy but once they start using the Internet it isn?t a big jump to e-commerce.?
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