In this paper, we explore some of the results from a survey of 378 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) based in the southeast of England. The objective of this survey was to build a snapshot of the state of play of the information and communications technology (ICT) use by SMEs in economically significant sectors in this region. The sectors chosen were as follows: food processing, transport and logistics, media and internet services. More specifically, the survey was intended to answer the following questions: what types of ICT are in use by SMEs in this region, what prevents and facilitates the adoption and use of ICT amongst these firms, and where do SMEs acquire information on ICT related issues. Our survey suggests that most SMEs in the southeast of England are in general positively inclined towards adoption and use of ICT. However, this adoption and use of ICT is mainly focused on operational matters with few extensions into potential strategic use of such technologies in their business environments. SME ownermanagers perceive ICT to be often costly and complex and are wary of consultants and vendor organisations. We also discovered, somewhat surprisingly, that SMEs are largely unaware of existing policy instruments at the regional, national and European levels, designed to help them in their adoption and use of ICT.
Keywords: Information and communications technology, ICT, small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs, ICT adoption, ICT use, government policy
This paper examines the adoption and use of information and communication technology (ICT) in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) across four sectors in the UK. In the paper we report on a survey that explores the factors facilitating or hampering the successful adoption and use of ICT by SMEs. We find that SMEs are generally satisfied with their investments in ICT but that they are concerned about the cost of such investments and are uncertain about the business benefits. Much of the investment in ICT is directed at meeting bottom line issues of cost and productivity but little use is made of potential strategic applications. A particular case in point is the diffusion of ecommerce in which firms report increased consumer interest but there is little evidence in the survey to suggest that interest is being actively managed by SMEs. One concern that emerges from the survey is the SMEs' perceived dependency upon consultants. SMEs appear to be encountering knowledgecompetency gaps related to ICT. They may be too small to be able to employ a dedicated ICT expert and lack the experience to have confidence in its reliability of consultancy advice. They often have limited experience in selecting, implementing and evaluating suggested ICT solutions. To help correct this gap in the provision of services, the government has tried to provide support with mixed success. Certainly, the UK government has had a strong interest in helping and supporting the SME sector. However, State sponsored solutions to meet this competency gap appear to be failing with little awareness or take up of such solutions by the SMEs that we surveyed. Something that remains unclear is whether this failure by SMEs to avail themselves of advice and guidance made available by the State reflects the quality of solutions offered or a more basic lack of awareness by SMEs.