Research carried out by the Learning Economies Programme revealed the government’s drive to get the UK’s countless SMEs on-line and involved in e-commerce marketplaces has to be delivered through local and regional agencies and networks of business support centres.
But local and regional training and enterprise councils (TECs), of which there are between 80 and 90 around the country, are to close on 27 March, after which their work will be continued by sub-regional learning and skills councils.
The Learning Economies Programme is a syndicated research programme that brings together a number of key partners — government departments, NTOs and local learning and skills agencies — to ensure a thorough understanding of the links between the real needs of SMEs and the e-policies and e-services being offered to them.
Mark Hepworth of the Local Futures Group presented a report on the results of the programme’s research in west London. The specific aim was to understand the market for ICT and e-commerce services delivered to SMEs through the west London-based Executive Studio training facility and to identify policy directions for the TECs.
“The key finding of the research is there are two digital divides that SMEs have to cross and, by corollary, e-commerce support providers have to address,” he said.
“The first — connectivity — is relatively simple and risk-free. The second — using e-commerce to grow your business — entails a move from existing business practices to full on-line trading, effectively a new business model,” he added.
Hepworth suggested it would place great strain on finances and capacity for change — things that SMEs do not have.
The Executive Studio aims to help companies and individuals make the most of IT, providing training and consultancy, as well as offering state-of-the-art facilities for events and business meetings.
With the closure of TECs, the Executive Studio sees a role for itself in continuing to support the rapid transformation in technology for SMEs.
To achieve its aim, Colin Glass, CEO of Executive Studio, said: “You need to understand how SMEs think and what motivates them. SMEs also like to learn with their peers and from each other. They need help with training, but the training should come in bite-sized chunks. These are all things we are looking to do at the Studio.”
Research has also been conducted on the approach of the vendors to try and understand the major IT suppliers’ level of interest in the SME market.
According to Mary Morrison-Paton, research director at DPA, venvdors were convinced the channel remained the key to the SME market. Adding value was seen predominantly as the task of their partners.
With only limited resources, “how can the SME market trust the vendors or the channel to deliver independent consultancy while sales teams are remunerated on product sales?”, she concluded.