Last week I received the report of the latest Open University Business School Quarterly Small Business Survey . This has been running since 1984 using the same methodology and therefore has a unique provenance.The special topic for this survey was SME use of mobile and web-based services. It contains some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that it confirms what I suspected when I blogged juxtaposing material from the 2013 Data Breaches Survey, the recent FSB – Intellect Report and the Policy Exchange Study and the National Fraud Authority examination of small firms as victims.
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The good news is that 80% made payments on-line from their bank accounts, over 2/3 thirds sent invoices and slightly more (70%) received payment.This is double the proportion saying they were willing to transact on-line when replying to the FSB-Intellect and Policy Exchange surveys which I referenced in my most recent blog on this topic. I think the reason for the difference lies in the way the questions were asked, given that the FSB and OU surveys were both based on self-selected samples.
The difference does, however, raise interesting questions regarding the need for awareness campaigns “to help address “missed opportunities” that are called for in the other reports. There were few applications that most SMEs replying to the OU survey would never consider, although a quarter would never consider opening a bank account or taking out a loan on-line and a fifth would never consider using cloud services. Interestingly the latter was almost exactly the same as the proportion already using them – .
By far the most common obstacle to doing more on-line over “static” Internet connections was concern over the security of the PC or the Internet itself (cited by 35%). This was followed, albeit well behind, by privacy (13%) and confidence with the technology (11%). Technology limitations were cited by only 4%.
Security was an even bigger concern with regard to using mobiles (cited by 45%), with privacy equally far behind (24%) and technology limitations (20%) rather more significant. The proportion lacking confidence with their ability to use the technology was similar (12%).
Unlike the other reports the OU report contains splits between industry sectors, fixed and mobile and applications and organisation size and location. The variations by geography were significantly greater than those by size: Wales was well below average in on-line usage, followed by the East of England and Scotland. This may well reflect the ability to get a broadband service at all, whether fixed or mobile, let alone one that is fit for business use.
The variations by industry sector were also interesting. Usage was highest among those in “Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries” followed by “Business Services”. It was lowest in “Transport, Storage and Communications” followed by “Hotels and Restaurants”. This probably reflects the way DEFRA has forced farmers on-line to handle their claims while those running pubs and hotels appear happy to take bookings on-line, but not payment.
My conclusion is, therefore, that those who wish small firms to transact online should focus on ensuring that the products and services they wish to promote are indeed “fit for purpose” – with a premium on security processes that inspire confidence. Otherwise they risk merely stoking up paranoia with awareness exercises are not linked to effective education and support programmes. This was a core message from the awareness exercises in the early 1980s. It still has not been learned by the technophiliacs.
I am hoping that the Digital Policy Alliance will succeed where I failed and provide a neutral umbrella to bring together the various players who want small firms use their on-line products and services, because until that happens the current fragmented initiatives look set to fail.