Over the past decade the internet has evolved from a technical environment into a commercial marketplace. The impact on consumers and large enterprises has been significant, but what about the small and medium sized business? With few of the skills and resources of their larger counterparts, these organisations need to get the best value from the internet and the network based services it enables, without risking day-to-day operations. Although employees will be increasingly aware of the options for connecting to the internet as consumers, this does not readily translate into the right knowledge for how to select the most appropriate alternatives from internet service providers for the business they work for.
Soaring across the regions - a view of the impact of the internet on business
- Across the UK, SMBs have embraced the internet
Widely accepted as a fundamental business tool, the internet has moved far from its academic roots. While many companies in some of the more traditionally industrialised regions have gone online more recently, other regions with more rural expanses show a significant strategic commitment to the internet.
- New services and applications are playing a significant role
Internet communications not only extend the reach from remote areas, many new applications also permit those based in locations where transport routes are congested to switch from physical travel to digital. This includes web and video conferencing, but also the use of e-commerce platforms to interact with suppliers, customers and partners.
- Internet connectivity has become vital for many, with reliability an important issue
While around a quarter of companies in most regions could cope for no more than an hour with no internet connection, there are a couple of regions where many companies still believe they can manage for over a day without it. Companies in most areas expect good service levels and look to providers with reliable reputations and business level support, but a significant number report connection performance dropping below what they would expect.
- Consumer applications have an impact in the workplace
Companies across the UK are noticing personal internet usage by employees, often for domestic chores and general access, but also for social networking and instant messaging. In the main a pragmatic view is taken with policies that allow use during lunchtime and outside working hours, but many have put in place access control and site/content monitoring technologies to keep personal internet use in check.
- Despite any personal use concerns, working from home is being encouraged
Home working provides business as well as personal flexibility and seems to be more pronounced in areas where transport links are congested, and competition for staff is highest. Mobile phones and laptops are the main tools provided to support home workers, although in some regions employees are supplied with broadband connections and data cards paid for by the business.
- There is a simplistic view of the internet connectivity options available
Knowledge about the differences in the range of options from ISPs is patchy. Despite companies in some regions suggesting there is no problem with the level of jargon in the industry, many in these same places struggle with their comprehension of internet service related technical terms. This lack of understanding will have a business impact and affects the commercial relationship between ISP and SMB.
CONCLUSION: Now British SMBs have embraced the internet and rely upon it for increasingly sophisticated services, it becomes even more important to understand the different offers from providers, and look beyond price to added value and regional support. This also places an onus on the ISPs themselves to differentiate their product options to demonstrate most clearly the benefits and business impact of their services, and how they intend to support customers across the UK.