Small firms struggle to see the benefit of IT

Research finds firms under 50 employees struggling to see value of IT and unaware of cost-efficient services

Research from Microsoft regarding the IT issues facing small businesses of up to 50 employees has revealed a worrying lack of awareness as to the value of IT.

When asked how important IT was to the running of the business, 83% of firms on a global basis regarded it as critical or of importance. A further 9% regarded IT as complementary.

Yet when invited to speculate as, regardless of cost, would businesses be better if they had more IT available, only 47% of firms worldwide, and worryingly, only 39% in the UK , could definitely agree with the proposition. A quarter did not know as to whether more IT would be more beneficial.

This finding was despite four-fifths of firms worldwide, and three-quarters in the UK believing that bigger businesses gain an advantage from having more dedicated and sophisticated IT resources.

When asked through about specific functions and features that may be of benefit to the company, the results were more encouraging. Just over half (56%) saw the benefit of increased security including antivirus and anti-spam protection; 44% recognising the advantages of anytime/anywhere access to email, calendar from PC, phone or PDA; just over a third (36%) seeing use in access to company files/information while out of the office.

Despite the availability of hosted systems that could support these aims, the smaller businesses seemed unaware of them. Only 37% of the UK smaller businesses were aware of being able to rent IT services from a telecommunications company or hosting services provider on a subscription basis.

Furthermore, 55% of UK firms definitively replied negatively to considering using hosted IT services from a service provider. Not using IT enough to warrant the investment (46%) and lack of understanding as to how such services would help (41%) were the two main drivers for UK firms to reject hosted services.

For those that did see a benefit, the top reason for UK firms to make the investment was a way to increase/improve IT despite having the resources to manage IT.

Michael Korbacher, Director Web & Application Hosting EMEA, Microsoft, accepted that the software industry cased a challenged in increasing the awareness of IT and of hosted services in general. He did however express optimism for future growth.

He said, “There are some surprises. Small businesses are using IT and the research shows that maintaining and fixing that IT takes up a significant amount of time, including the time of the management team. When asked if more IT, regardless of cost, would make their businesses better, companies in more mature markets, say no because they feel more IT would take up even more of their time and resources; emerging markets, say yes because they don’t have a lot of IT and are yet to experience a drain of resources. [Results from the question]  ‘do you think that bigger businesses gain an advantage from having more dedicated and sophisticated IT resources?’, underlines that small businesses do acknowledge that more dedicated/sophisticated IT resources give an advantage to bigger firms. “

“I would expect to see awareness of firms increase and to see service providers [of hosted services] to continue to blossom. There are still huge opportunities and it’s no longer just an early adopter [market. Such services are] more broadly acceptable. And the credit crunch will help.”


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