Survey: small companies like Microsoft best

Small- and medium-sized companies in UK are more likely to trust advice from Microsoft than any other software vendor, according to a Silicon.com/Bathwick Group survey.

That's just one of the conclusions of silicon.com's recent survey, in collaboration with the Bathwick Group, of which companies UK SMEs trust and mistrust when it comes to buying IT solutions.

The 567 respondents (all from organisations of fewer than 1,000 employees) were asked to rate vendors for the trustworthiness of their advice on IT purchases, giving one to the most trustworthy, and seven to the least. Would they give good advice or just sell you whatever they could?

Hardware firms dominated the top of the rankings. The most trusted of all was HP, with 53 percent of respondents giving it a one, two or three for trustworthiness.

IBM (which admittedly makes a lot of software too), Dell and Cisco followed closely behind, with 44.7, 44.2 and 43.5 per cent of the top grades respectively.

Michael Jackson, IT director at 65-person London-based accountancy firm Frank Hirth, says: "[Hardware companies] don't move forward as quickly as quickly as software, so that is probably half the problem. I have a good track record with Dell and HP."

The top software-only vendor was Microsoft, coming in fifth with 37 percent of top grades for trustworthiness.

"They are getting their act together, slowly," says Jackson. "They used to put new versions out there so fast that they would get ripped apart faster than they could put them together. Now they're taking their time a bit."

"They're also facing a bit more competition, so maybe they are being forced to listen more to what their clients are saying."

Microsoft still doesn't please everyone. The hard core of Redmond refuseniks made their voices heard, with 16 percent of respondents giving the software giant the ultimate raspberry rating of 7 -- more than any other vendor in our poll.

Jonathan Steel, CEO of the Bathwick Group, said this result shows a worsening of the position which Microsoft holds. Though consumers have long loved to hate Windows, in the business world, it used to be a different story.

"They used to have a much better name. They used to be relatively trusted and that has dropped off quite substantially," Steel said.

Other software providers were left to eat Bill Gates' dust. Respondents didn't rate Oracle and SAP when it came to specifying IT solutions, with only 23 percent and 14 percent respectively giving the ERP titans top grades. Glued firmly to the bottom of the credibility poll was Cable and Wireless, with nine percent of respondents giving it a high trust rating. Telecoms services were SMEs' least trusted sector overall, with British Telecom scoring just 20 percent.

Bob Crosby, managing director of Workhead Advertising and Marketing, an 11-employee company based in High Wycombe, agrees with these findings. "In twenty-six years, I've only written a few angry letters and pretty much all of them have been to BT," he says.

"They specified a system for us once and when the man came to install it he turned up without some of the necessary parts -- even though BT had spec-ed it themselves."

When seeking out advice on IT procurement, small businesses look inward. Forty-five percent agreed completely with the statement: "My company has enough in-house knowledge to successfully specify and purchase IT solutions."

Forty-one per cent said they had enough brainpower in-house to implement the solution, too.

Only around 10 percent disagreed with the first statement and 14 percent disagreed with the second. (The remainder agreed somewhat).

This could be a touch overconfident, says Dr Peter Chadha, director at business advisers and accountants BDO Stoy Hawyard. "If IT solutions mean strategic systems and line of business applications, I would say, 'no way!'"

"[Small businesses] may be able to specify a server but they don't know how to do a tender. If they find the right supplier, they are lucky."

David Hocking, who is in charge of IT procurement at Rochdale-based, 130-employee ISP Zen Internet, concurs with this view. "With something like CRM I personally would look for some expert advice. But for general things like buying a new domain controller, we have all the skills we need in-house."

Looking at the various categories of advice-givers for IT purchases, vendors received a gigantic raspberry in this department, with just 29 percent of respondents giving software houses and computer system manufacturers the top three grades. Less than one percent, or a mere four respondents, gave software suppliers full marks.

Neil Prevett, IT director at 360-person law firm Lester Aldridge, says: "You want to know if a supplier gives good service and they aren't going to tell you that themselves."

Big name consultancies, analyst houses such as IDC and Gartner and local consultants fared a little better than vendors as sources of buying advice, scoring 31, 48 and 58 percent respectively. Workhead's Bob Crosby has depended on local consultants for years. "Bearing in mind that I only have experience of using two, I wouldn't be without them," he says. "But that doesn't stop me from checking out other alternatives -- and there are a couple of vendors who have been very helpful indeed."

Not surprisingly, in-house staff received a resounding vote of confidence as trusted sources for making IT purchases. Eighty-three percent received the top grades from their bosses.

It turns out the most trusted external source of information is IT publications. Seventy-one per cent of SMEs gave the media a resounding cheer of endorsement, with a top three grade.

The IT press was also rated by 37.8 percent of SMEs as the most trusted source for advice on IT spend, narrowly beating local consultants (35 percent) and knocking big consultants, analysts and vendors into a cocked hat.

Bathwick's Steel says: "People are getting less interested in paying a large analyst houses a large amount of money for relatively straightforward information."

"A lot of publications, on the other hand, have been providing extremely good advice over the past few years, by and large for free."

Silicon.com's Ben King reported from London. For more coverage on silicon.com, click here.

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