A survey conducted by Computer Weekly's sister title E-Business Review found that 46% of companies are currently involved in or planning e-business projects and 84% have their own Web site. But only 2% actually use their Web sites for transaction purposes.
Many companies are following a plan whereby they start with a Web site for advertising purposes, move on to some interactivity, followed by order taking and then payment online.
Many firms expressed their anxiety about getting left behind and cited a shortage of skilled people able to develop and implement e-business strategies.
In 66% of companies IT managers are involved in strategy formation, 72% involve business managers.
On the whole, marketing managers tend to take responsibility for strategy while implementation is the responsibility of IT staff. The lack of prioritisation was underlined by the fact that only 5% of companies have named specific e-business managers.
David Bicknell, managing editor of E-Business Review, claimed that, although finance directors may be involved, implementation and co-ordination of strategy is generally at a lower level in the organisation.
Electronic exchanges are not a high priority for most companies. Just 3% of respondents said they are members of an online marketplace and only 9% are considering joining one.
Bicknell said, "Whether UK companies are slipping behind with e-business plans against their global rivals, or whether it is nervousness and fear of the unknown, it is clear that UK PLC lacks confidence about its preparation for the e-economy."
Bicknell added that the key issue is "the lack of skilled individuals to make e-business in the UK happen and a general lack of knowledge.
"Until we have boosted our e-skilled workforce, the climate of anxiety about moving forward with e-business in the UK will continue to grow," said Bicknell.
David Harrington, director of the Communications Management Association, was surprised by some of the figures in the survey, which seemed to fly in the face of media hype.
"The 2% quoted for transactions over the Web seems a very small number, though my own experience of going to sites is that there is usually a facility to take orders," he said.
While Harrington believes that e-business will develop into a major tool for business, he added, "E-business will not stand alone but will quickly reinforce current fundamental trends."
Michael Gough, chief executive of the National Computing Centre, said the pace at which e-business develops in the UK will depend on the Government, suppliers and the business community.
Launch pad UK E-Business Month was formally launched on 2 November at a breakfast meeting at Claridges, London (above). For a full list of activities and initiatives see www.ebusinessmonth.com