Computer, Internet Use Increases at Small Businesses

Eighty percent of U.S. small businesses have at least one computer on site used for business purposes, and in some sectors computer usage has almost reached saturation, according to Dun & Bradstreet’s 20th Annual Small Business Survey.

The survey, which measures attitudes, behaviors and trends in the U.S. small business market, also found that two-thirds of all small businesses and approximately 85 percent of small business computer owners report having Internet access, and more than half of those now have a Web site. Among those companies that currently access the Internet, 60 percent say they will increase their use of the Internet in 2001.

Small businesses in the United States have long been known to prefer Internet access, and even a simple Web presence, to conducting transactions online. That has not changed, according to the Dun & Bradstreet survey. Only 27 percent of those with a Web site are currently selling on the Internet, and average less than three Web-based orders per month. Among all of the survey’s respondents, less than one-quarter say they plan to invest in a Web site or Internet marketing in 2001.

By further breaking down the small business market, it’s possible to find a high-tech divide between the small business and the really small business, and this divide may make a big difference when it comes to how small businesses devote money and resources to technology.

The COMDEX Small Business Survey by Key3Media Group, Inc. found that home office small businesses have very different IT needs than commercial office small businesses in regards to IT investment priorities, IT budgets and preferred purchasing channels. Nineteen percent of home office businesses consider computer systems to be the most important technology investment, while 23 percent of commercial office businesses are most concerned with investing in Web products or services.

This difference, as might be expected, is reflected in small business IT budgets. Commercial office small businesses have an average annual IT budget more than twice the size of home office small businesses — $1.3 million vs. $622,000, according to the Key2Media survey. The two groups prefer different purchasing channels, as well, with 49 percent of home office small businesses favoring to buy from retail establishments, while 46 percent of commercial office small businesses prefer to purchase through a reseller.

However, the survey did find a similarity between the two groups in regards to installation impediments. Twenty-nine percent of home office small businesses and 22 percent of commercial office small businesses consider the high cost of implementation to be the biggest roadblock to installing new technologies.

“When considering IT purchases, small businesses are concerned with how technology will keep them competitive and cut overall expenses, and how well it will be serviced and supported by vendors,” said Doug Gold, vice president, content development and educational programs/COMDEX. “It’s important for IT vendors to realize that small businesses need reliable products and long-term vendor support.”

Research by The Kelsey Group anticipates small-business spending on information technology and other such functional support areas will grow from just over $300 billion to nearly a half-trillion dollars by 2005.

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