Small firms bewildered by hi-tech

NEW technologies that could help small businesses to grow are not being used effectively because they are too complex and the choice is too bewildering.

Mobile technologies are advancing so rapidly that small business are baffled by all the options, and are failing to benefit from the advantages they offer, according to the Mobility 2006 report.

Research house World Wide Worx interviewed 1152 small- and medium-sized companies on their use of mobile technologies, and found they are far less able than large companies to make technology work for them.

Of the respondents, 53% considered themselves advanced in using common mobile technologies such as laptops and cellphones. However, only 17% believed they were advanced in their use of more complex technologies such as wireless networking and mobile broadband technology.

Only 17% of those who use mobile technologies at all were using wireless broadband services from Sentech, iBurst or the cellular operators, and most respondents did not intend to change their connectivity habits in the next year.

“This shows that small and medium enterprises are resistant to change and require a strong educational approach in any effort to sell new technology to them,” said World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck.

Large organisations were far more advanced in using mobile technologies to give themselves a competitive advantage over companies that were less technology savvy, said Goldstuck.

The study was backed by First National Bank (FNB). Len Pienaar, CEO of FNB’s mobile and transact solutions division, agreed that any mobile services being offered to small businesses had to be easy to register for and simple to use.

The challenge was for banks to design services for small companies that gave them access to the same services and functionality that big companies had, but at an affordable cost, he said.

Meanwhile, Vodacom is offering its customers a free e-mail account that they can access via their cellphone, touting it as a huge benefit to small and medium businesses. A painter who advertises his services on a board can now add an e-mail address, making him look more professional and enhancing his prospects. The service would give many people who did not have a physical postbox another way of communicating, said Vodacom SA’s MD Shameel Joosub.

The free e-mail service lets users send, read and reply to e-mail from their cellphones and comes with a 5Mb mailbox. Five e-mail addresses will be allocated to each customer, so that family members can each have their own address.

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Small firms bewildered by hi-tech