No barriers to e-business adoption by SMEs

Author: Yogi Schulz

Recently, the Canadian e-Business Initiative (CeBI) identified the lack of "e-talent" and the lack of tailored e-business solutions as barriers to e-business adoption by small medium sized businesses (SMEs) nationwide. I'm highly skeptical about the accuracy of these findings. I'm deeply suspicious that the interviewers mistook general whining as a real barrier. Here are my reasons.

Large Number of Small-Time Consultants

CeBI indicates that some 200,000 SMEs cannot find employees with the skills necessary to implement e-business solutions for their firms. I don't think these firms are making much effort to find help.

At industry events and in the Yellow pages, I see a large number of small-time consultants, who appear capable, available and cheap to me. These firms are ideally suited to address this SME need. Much of this talent has become available to SMEs since the Internet bubble burst and spilled surplus talent onto the market. My simple Google search for "web design/build Calgary" turned up many pages of hits.

I wonder if some of the SMEs believe that the blue-sky promises, contained in the get-rich-quick spam they're receiving, should apply to their e-business ideas.

Available Software Packages

CeBI indicates that SMEs face a lack of tailored e-business solutions designed to satisfy their scalability and technology needs as many solutions on the market today are too costly, time consuming and overly complex for smaller firms to implement.

Certainly the software solutions aimed at larger firms are a poor fit for SMEs. However, I am aware of several software packages that greatly reduce the cost of e-business application development and maintenance for SMEs who want to take the in-house route. While the price claim of a web site for under $20.00 at www.citymax.com is difficult to believe, it is indicative of what is being offered to SMEs. My simple Google search for "easy content management" turned up many pages of hits. I suspect there is a local e-business software supplier, who wants SMEs as customers, in many Canadian cities. In Calgary, one choice is: www.netscaffold.com.

I wonder if the SMEs, who claim to face a lack of tailored e-business solutions, aren't making much of an effort to find a solution.

Web Hosting

For some reason, the CeBI report does not directly address web hosting operating costs that I believe fits right in with the barriers the CeBI did try to cover. To address the price-sensitivity that many SMEs exhibit, I see major telcos and their non-telco competitors offering SME-oriented web hosting packages starting at a bargain $6.95 plus GST per month. Surf to www. telus.com, www.q9.com or www.webcentre.ca to form your own conclusion.

Given the many low-cost web hosting suppliers, operating costs should not be a problem for SMEs.

Supposed Slow E-Business Adoption

Having cast doubt on the CeBI findings, is there really slow e-business adoption among SMEs?

First, as much as I am a fan of the Internet, many small businesses, especially in retail, do not benefit from e-business because of the high-touch nature of their sales.

Second, some SMEs are using e-business giants such as eBay, Amazon and industry-specific equivalents to achieve attractive financial results while avoiding an investment in their own e-business infrastructure.

It appears that by missing these two aspects of e-business adoption, the CeBI is over-stating the problem.

Conclusions

I think the CeBI has gone to great lengths to study and publicize a non-problem. Perhaps the apparent slow e-business adoption by SMEs is just whining on a slow day.