UK businesses ignoring the Net

The majority of the UK's small to medium enterprises (SMEs) who, according to a report released yesterday, continue to ignore the potential of the Internet, will not be competitive once e-commerce becomes an accepted business practice.

The report, by IT company Virtual Access, claims that 64 percent of the UK's SMEs do not have access to the Internet and are in "jeopardy" of becoming uncompetitive "at a time when the world of Internet commerce is set to explode".

The research reveals only 36% of SMEs use external email within their businesses and, within this group, only 10% use it extensively. Even fewer companies (28%) give employees access to the Internet and only 22% have websites. Over half of SMEs said they had no plans to develop websites.

Author of the report Craig Pickup told ZDNet News: "Many small organisations or companies - say a plumber for example - are put off this technology because of a fear of its technical requirements. You probably wouldn't expect a plumber to have a Web site but many of them would benefit greatly from having email for example." Pickup said the situation in Europe is not much better. "Even in Germany where the Internet is popular you don't see many of these types of businesses using Web sites." But he warned that "unless things change our SME's run the risk of being overtaken by competing nations."

The research also investigated the uptake of ISDN by SMEs and found that despite aggressive price cutting by BT only 18% of SMEs use it. This, states the report, is due to a number of factors including the anticipated complexity of ISDN: 18% of those who had considered ISDN did not proceed due to "technical issues". 82% of the companies who had considered ISDN confirmed they would reconsider using the system if both price and ease of use were improved.

The survey was based on telephone interviews which questioned 363 companies in the south west of England and Croydon areas.