The government has to grow up and learn that the e-fairy cannot solve all the problems of small business, says Simon Moores.
"Seventy thousand small businesses to fold" was the banner headline in the business section of a leading Sunday newspaper. A little further on, an article devoted to the work of e-trade promotion group InterForum tells us that e-business is transforming our "nation of shopkeepers", while a column reveals that playing company paintball isn’t always the best way of building a good management team.
There are times when I wonder if the lunatics are running the asylum. On the one hand, we’re being fed the message that spending money and effort on "e"’ is having a transformative effect on the UK economy, while on the other hand the evidence suggests that red tape, globalisation, high costs, taxes and insurance are crippling our smaller businesses whether they are web-enabled or not.
I suspect that in fact e-businesses are failing as fast or even faster than any other kind of business.
A well-meaning government has fallen short of its target of having most businesses online. By this I mean truly online, not simply going through the motions or just using the telephone, which can, if the statistics demand it, be a grey area, rather like patients in the NHS. Being classified as an e-business just isn’t enough, because the "e" that we’re really talking about isn’t a thing - it’s a risky, expensive, time consuming, educational process which can distract and cripple any small company that isn’t prepared for it.
This argument is all about the management of expectations and costs. Business is a fine example of evolutionary Darwinism at its best. You evolve too fast and you’re toast. You evolve too slowly and you’re somebody else’s toast. Statistically, fortune favours not the brave but companies that take technology’s promises with a pinch of salt; one very good reason for the downturn in the IT sector over the past two years. Since 2000, business has learned that a more cautious approach to technology results in a better return on investment but government continues to believe in fairies, which is why it appoints tsars, to keep them under control.
I’m a firm believer in what technology can do for businesses of all sizes but at the same time, I’m reluctant to accept the argument that a company course of "e", broadband and an enterprise server licence might offer failing companies protection from the colder economic realities of 2003.
What do you think?
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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.