A senior European Union executive has outlined the Community?s strategy on small to medium enterprises (SMEs)and warned that European countries need to emulate US and Japanese policies. In particular, they need to assist SMEs in boosting their business through the Internet.
Rosalie Zobel, head of an EU unit specialising in business systems, multimedia and microprocessor applications, said that European countries needed to concentrate particularly on developing Internet skills.
?Unemployment in Europe is still high, mainly due to downsizing of large companies, and has not been reduced significantly in the last few years, whereas in 1994 SMEs created 2.1 million jobs in the US,? she said.?
Zobel, who is the EU representative on a G7 project called 'The Global Marketplace for SMEs', said continued growth in the Community depended on SMEs following the lead of both the US and Japan. She said: ?Within the EU there are more than 16 million SMEs representing 99.8 per cent of all companies, providing 65 per cent of business turnover, 40 per cent of exports and 66 per cent of total employment.?
But the nature of SMEs, which the EU defines as companies with fewer than 250 employees, meant that IT was not their first priority.
?The main issues are awareness and cost,? she said. ?While many SMEs have heard of the use of new technologies, they are not well understood and most SMEs have no idea how their businesses can benefit. This may be the reason why only four per cent of SMEs have Internet access in Europe so far, whereas nearly all large companies already make extensive use of Intranets, Extranets and even the Internet for advertising and sales.?
All this meant loss of opportunities and competitiveness for the European SMEs, in a potentially lucrative market, Zobel said. Large IT companies, whether homegrown or from the US and Japan, could and should do more to push awareness of the benefits.
Nevertheless, she said that there were encouraging signs that increased use of the Internet could create additional profits for the community?s small and medium sized business.
She gave three examples. The first was a tulip company in the Netherlands, which had increased its sales by 10 per cent using electronic methods and the Internet. The second was a Lapland-based company, making reindeer sausages, which had advertised its wares on the Web. The resulting sales, Zobel said, had galvanised the whole village into increasing production. The last was an Italian company that had sold 40 extra pairs of expensive designer sunglasses after its new site received 100,000 hits in its first two months.
But she denied that following the US or Japanese lead in pushing new technologies to SMEs would cut large European IT suppliers out of the equation. ?We?ll take help from anybody we can,? she said.
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