Following a whistlestop tour of senior business people around the UK, the CBI's new director general, Digby Jones, has made e-business one of his top priorities, writes John Riley.
"There is an appreciation [among business people] that e-commerce is here to stay," he says. "There's a feeling that if they don't take it up, they'll be left behind."
Jones believes that one of the CBI's core challenges is to ensure smaller businesses don't run away from e-commerce, but give it time and investment. "Owners have to find the best way forward and lead by example," he says.
Jones is assessing the CBI's role in boosting take-up of e-business by its members, and thinks it has a strong role to play in providing help and advice to ensure companies do not fall behind. Of his members, he asks, "Are we doing enough? Could we do it differently?" He is developing within the CBI a group dedicated to e-commerce.
The CBI is an active member of the Alliance for Electronic Business, along with the Computing Services and Software Association (CSSA), the Federations of the Electronics Industry (FEI); the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and e-Centre.
"We are looking for that to be the engine for e-commerce training," he says.
Jones is doing the rounds of cabinet ministers and talking with education secretary David Blunkett about ways of supporting the Government's lifelong learning schemes to improve the skills of workforces. He praises e-minister Patricia Hewitt, but is concerned that her job may become too large for one person.
Jones, an ebullient straight-talking man, aims to swashbuckle his way through red tape to fight the business cause.
He wants to try to cut through the various inter-departmental barriers to get the UK Government to speak with one voice in fighting e-business issues in Brussels.
Although the CBI represents many large corporations, Jones speaks up for medium and smaller firms too. He sees the CBI as the pre-eminent business organisation.
He draws distinctions between the CBI, the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Chambers of Commerce. Relations between the three are cordial, but Jones emphasises that each plays a distinct role. Membership of the IoD is personal, not corporate, and offers a more personal service driven for its members, many of whom are from smaller businesses. The Chambers of Commerce he sees as doing "a first-class job", providing advice on a local level.
He claims the CBI has a vital role in getting members to understand e-business. "It's about changing the culture," he says.
This was first published in March 2000