Small and medium sized enterprises in the UK are still not harnessing the business opportunities provided by the Internet, according to a recent survey.
Though 49 per cent of all UK businesses regularly use the Internet, up from 35 per cent a year ago, SMEs are struggling to identify ways it can be used to benefit the business, according to Spectrum Strategy Consultants (SCC), which carried out the survey for the UK Department of Trade and Industry.
"By 2001 over half of the working population will be employed in SMEs. As technology progresses, SMEs will increasingly need to compete on an international level," said Simon Begg, analyst at SCC. "It's not an option not to be involved in IT any more."
Though Internet usage in the UK is ahead of France (24 per cent) and Germany (44 per cent), the survey found that many companies use it solely as a marketing tool, with companies operating in niche markets being the only ones using the Internet to add real value to the business.
Begg pointed to a gnome manufacturer in Nottingham as one such business where 30 per cent of sales are executed over the Internet, generating #300,000 in turnover annually.
"This company sells gnomes all over the world, and for them the Internet was a very cheap way of identifying sales opportunities and taking their unique product to a mass marketplace," he said.
Begg said he hoped the survey would be followed up by practical demonstrations to SMEs of ways in which technology, particularly the Internet, can help businesses.
The survey polled 1,700 companies across all sectors in the UK, Japan, Germany, France and the US about everything from whether they had a PC to how they used the Internet. Japan emerged as the leading Internet user, with 72 per cent of companies having access, followed by the US on 57 per cent.
Japan also has the highest proportion of companies with a Web site, 45 per cent, followed by the US on 41 per cent. The figure in the UK is 37 per cent, up from 27 per cent a year ago. France was the lowest of those surveyed, with 14 per cent.
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