For small businesses, 2011 has been another tough year, with many continuing to batten down the hatches as the economy continues to stall. But at the same time it has also been a year of technological innovation, both in terms of SMEs using the latest technology to drive down costs and also bringing new IT innovations to the market.
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The government has also refocused its attention on increasing small business procurements, as many larger tech companies have failed to keep pace with the latest ICT trends. Read our top ten articles outlining the technology landscape for small businesses in 2011.
Small and mid-sized companies are increasingly using cloud computing to transform the way they operate, research has shown.
SMEs are increasingly adopting cloud-based technologies, according to a study. Research from global IT trade association CompTIA, shows that 18% of UK SMEs are using cloud-based products, while a further 30% plan to introduce them over the next year. Almost all (93%) of those using them found the transition easy, and 79% found results positive. Furthermore, 81% expect to increase their cloud usage over the next two years.
According to CompTIA, part of the move to the cloud will be driven by the uptake of tablets, which benefit from the remote access that cloud provides. The survey found that 37% of SMEs already have tablets and another 37% plan to purchase them.
The government's aim to widen public sector IT procurement to include more small businesses has been widely welcomed, but many of those smaller suppliers still report that the reality is very different from the intent.
Computer Weekly has talked to a range of SME IT firms – often on condition of anonymity – about the obstacles they face in winning government contracts against the major suppliers that dominate the sector. Common problems cited include the conflicting demands of the drive to centralise procurement following Topshop chief Philip Green's efficiency review last year; the entrenched interests of systems integrators [SIs]; unspecified project aims; and filling out forms the size of phone directories.
The government is setting up a new framework agreement for buying consultancy services worth up to £2bn over the next four years.
The Consultancy One deal is designed to cut the levels of spending on consultants across Whitehall and make it easier for small businesses to win consulting contracts.
The government has issued a gagging order preventing members of an SME working group from commenting on meeting discussions, despite its recent commitment to an "open government" transparency agenda.
The New Suppliers to Government (NSG) panel was set up to enable Whitehall to increase the number of SMEs awarded public sector contracts.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is asking its systems integrators to list the number of SMEs in their supply chains, in a move designed to open up more public sector contracts to small businesses.
Speaking to Computer Weekly, David Smith, commercial director at the DWP, said the findings would not necessarily lead to a quota system with the government mandating a set percentage of small suppliers. But he said it would enable the DWP to encourage systems integrators to include more SMEs in their subcontracting.
6. Technology Strategy Board plans series of launchpad investment events to boost UK’s tech start-ups
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is proposing to set up investment launchpad programmes for technology start-ups in different locations across the country, following the success of its Tech City investment competition in London.
Eighteen businesses won funding of up to £100,000 each from the government this week, in an event designed to foster small technology companies in the area. The government committed a total of £2m to the competition, which will be given to the companies once they have secured private sector cash to match the amount. Around 100 angel investors attended the event.
The volume of public sector contracts being won by SME suppliers has increased dramatically this year, claims the government.
Speaking at The Crown and suppliers: A new way of working, procurement conference in London, the government’s chief procurement officer, John Collington, said that in the past, there were not enough SMEs winning business through the usual procurement channels.
Despite the government having made noises about improving SME procurement, problems around the launch of Bristol City Council's open source website have cast doubts on the public sector’s ability to break its dependency on large systems integrators.
Bristol's initiative, dubbed "Digital City" and led by services director Stephen Hilton, was curtailed by a surprise decision to build the website under an existing contract with Capgemini. Just seven local firms have since been added to an unofficial procurement framework under which they can bid to do further developments on the website.
For SMEs in rural areas internet connectivity is crucial to their businesses, but campaigners have hit out at the government’s rollout plans for being too slow.
The Countryside Alliance says that unless the whole process of implementing rural broadband projects is simplified, the digital divide will keep growing.
Prime Minister David Cameron has launched an interactive map of East London Tech City as the initiative celebrated its first anniversary. Tech City was launched last year in a move by the government to boost the economy by supporting small tech start-ups.
Tech City is a cluster of technology start-ups mainly located around Old Street and Shoreditch in London. Tech City locals, Playgen and Trampoline Systems, launched an interactive Tech City Mapto show the number of businesses operating in the area.