09 March 2000 | Liam O'Brien
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) miss out on Internet opportunities because suppliers do not provide them with appropriate business solutions, according to a new report.
Mind the Gap, compiled by the University of Durham Business School and IT solutions vendor Flexion Systems, revealed that more than three-quarters of the 300 SMEs questioned found relationships with their information and communication technologies (ICT) suppliers frustrating or disappointing.
Around two-fifths said they felt their ICT supplier spoke a different language from them.
Ted Fuller, director of the Foresight Research Centre at Durham and author of the report, said: "The two sides are effectively speaking two different languages. The needs of small firms are expressed in terms of business development and business problems, while the language of ICT suppliers is based around technology features.
"This supply-side failure is resulting in many small firms not realising the full potential of ICT," he added.
The report, supported by market data compiled by Flexion over the past couple of years, also found that around £10 billion of SME management time was wasted on resolving ICT issues.
Gary Marsden, Flexion's sales and marketing director, said: "We knew there was a problem, but we didn't know the magnitude of it."
Marsden said IT suppliers needed to improve. "They should provide better tools, advice and consultancy, and should provide the same level of service to SMEs as their public relations consultants or accountants."
Brian Jeffrey, senior lecturer in IT and supply chain management at Coventry University Business School, said many suppliers provided solutions that were expensive and relevant to only large organisations.
Shaun Green, trading manager at SME buying consortium the Independent Manufacturers' Alliance, said: "We have always felt our members are at a disadvantage in terms of having no specialist department in charge of IT. Packages are not really bespoke and suppliers are likely to say, 'this is the package - make your own systems work with it'".
But some computer suppliers claim SMEs are partly to blame for their problems. Kevin Meagre, operations director at IT supplier Europe Systems Exchange, said: "Often the SME isn't 100 per cent sure what it wants in the first place. From our point of view, a lot of the time it is an education process."For a copy of the report, contact Flexion on 01628 827260