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Research shows low internet use in regional small businesses


2 March 2004
The internet and email do not play a huge role in regional small businesses, according to new research by a Southern Cross University (SCU) lecturer in Information Technology and Multimedia.

Dr Bruce Armstrong, who has just completed his PhD on the use of information systems in small business, believes the lack of infrastructure is one of the main reasons regional businesses differ from their metropolitan counterparts in the use of information technology.

His research, involving a survey of 178 small businesses (less than 20 employees; manufacturing less than 100 employees) in the manufacturing and wholesale sector, found that most small businesses rated the use of the internet and email as not very important. It also showed that the most important use for computers in small businesses was in running programs that supported their accounting and book-keeping operations.

Dr Armstrong said that with the Federal Government putting an increasing emphasis on the importance of information technology, he wanted to discover what small businesses in regional areas actually used computers for and how critical they were to their operations.

“What I found was the levels of usage and the importance placed on them in regional areas did not correspond to what they were being told they should find important,” Dr Armstrong said.

“They see it as more important that they are close to their customer base and have good relationships with their customers and employees.”

He said the lack of infrastructure in regional areas for high-speed internet access had created a huge gap between businesses in metropolitan and those based regional areas.

“For the majority of them their customers are local. Small businesses are so focussed on just surviving, they don’t have time to devote to planning for things like computer systems. A lot of them ‘fell’ into computing, rather then integrating a system as a key component of their business strategy.”

Dr Armstrong said that he believed the Government’s focus should be on integrating businesses through technology rather then promoting a technology and hoping businesses took part in the project.

“Just having a web site is not enough – it is only one part of a broader business and marketing strategy.”

The research also focussed on what made a business successful in its use of information systems. He said the staff that rated themselves as having good computing skills also rated their computing systems as being more important to the business.

“For small businesses this seems to highlight the importance of providing appropriate training for staff who use computers.”

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.