SMEs stand to gain a competitive edge by using available technology to the best advantage. That’s according to the latest findings of SME Survey 2007, which has indicated a clear correlation between the use of technology and competitiveness. 

Arthur Goldstuck, principal researcher for SME Survey, comments: “Entrepreneurs who take advantage of high speed Internet connectivity, mobile solutions including WiFi, multifunction devices and the services of specialist software and hardware companies tend to be more competitive.“
In terms of connectivity, Goldstuck says the research indicates that 55% of SMEs are using ADSL, 11% dial-up, 7% ISDN, 3% MyWireless, 3% leased line, and 2% 3G as their primary means of connectivity. Perhaps alarmingly, 9% of respondents have no Internet access.
“Correlating this with competitiveness reveals that ADSL is the most likely mode to be used by the highly competitive SME. Once they upgrade, most find that the cost of communication comes down, a major factor in competitiveness,” notes Goldstuck.
Of those SMEs using ADSL, 45% regard themselves as competitive, while those using dial-up have the same correlation between connectivity and competitiveness as those with no connection at all at 35%.
Goldstuck says of those businesses using VoIP, 49% regard themselves as highly competitive versus 42% of those which don’t. “This is indicative that the more sophisticated user of technology tends to regard his business as more competitive.”
Also remarkable, says Goldstuck, is the near-linear progression of the number of computers within the company and its perceived competitiveness. Of those companies with 1-5 machines, 36% regard themselves as competitive, with 6-10 computers, 41%, 11-20 machines, 46% and 76-100 PCs, 61%.
“Furthermore, those using IT services such as end-user training, hardware and software sales, Web development and strategic consulting, tend to regard themselves as very competitive; however, the fact that just 28% of SMEs actually use these services indicate that many believe they don’t have the time or that they cannot justify the investment of time or effort. This is a real opportunity for the SME.”
Danny de Beer, business development director at Fujitsu Siemens Computers, says that SMEs that are prepared to pay for expert advice appear to gain a clear benefit from it.
“However, many SMEs tend to be reluctant to make use of external assistance. For example, Fujitsu Siemens Computers holds many free IT training courses where it is difficult to get good attendance. Those SME owners who do attend tend to be those who will pay for assistance,” he says.
De Beer makes the important point that buying IT is one thing, but how best to apply is another. “Perhaps owing to the fact that the SME owner is somewhat reliant on their own resources, many tend to believe they can do it well enough on their own where their computing is concerned,” he says.
He agrees however, that there does not seem to be this level of resistance where other professional services are required, such as in the legal or accounting fields. “This perhaps indicates that the SME is not entirely trustful of the providers of IT services,” says De Beer.
As a result, he believes it is incumbent upon vendors and distributors to invest in channel development to equip resellers with the skills – both ‘hard’ (training and certification, vertical market specialisation) and ‘soft’ (business development, interpersonal) so that they gain the confidence in order to meet the needs of the SME. “There is also the reality that many SMEs simply don’t know where to find a reseller with the confidence of getting value for money,” he says.
SME Survey is sponsored by Standard Bank and Fujitsu Siemens Computers.