What Would you do with 20 Grand?

The Great British small business has undergone a technology revolution, a new report commissioned by Cisco Systems has revealed. According to the survey of 400 small businesses in the UK, the trappings of the old world start-up – salubrious offices, feng shui and lavish company cars that used to be considered essential for serious business – have now been superseded by advanced technologies that increase productivity, improve customer service and make mobile workforces more efficient.

The research highlights a shift in attitudes- the use of technology is now seen as an essential element in building a successful business. When the survey respondents were asked how they would spend a £20,000 windfall on their business, their top choices were technologies to help their business grow and that support electronic collaboration: They put servers (37 percent), computers for their staff (34 percent), communications (25 percent), and personal digital assistants (20 percent) at the top of their “wish list”. Just two percent would spend their windfall on company cars, and only ten percent voted for office space and furniture.

Bernadette Wightman, Head of SMB, Cisco Systems UK said: “The results show that a surprising number of small businesses are investing in high-performance, advanced technologies – technologies that have a major impact on business productivity and competitiveness. Such a pragmatic approach to IT has usually come from larger enterprises. British small businesses are now well aware of the importance of intellectual capital and using advanced technologies to punch above their weight. This can only be good news for the British economy.”

The survey, conducted by the independent research house Vanson Bourne, also reveals that mobile operations are a well-established practice amongst small businesses, with more than one in three (38 percent) using technology to deploy a mobile workforce. Over half the businesses have already invested in mobile technologies, such as virtual private networks (57 percent) and wireless communications (56 percent).

Furthermore more than nine out ten businesses (91 percent) equip their staff with laptops, enabling them to work flexibly and on the move. Over 22 percent of businesses are also using technology in order to operate electronically beyond UK borders.
As well as the “wish list” of desired technologies, the survey also highlighted a very high uptake of technology across small businesses:

Broadband – The broadband revolution is proceeding apace with 92 percent of small businesses having invested in a high-speed Internet connection

Voice over IP – 29 percent of businesses have integrated their voice communications onto their Internet Protocol (IP) networks, slashing call costs and providing a portal to an electronic collaboration environment

Storage – Just over half the businesses (52 percent) are aware of the value of their data and the need to be able to retrieve it for future reference, have invested in information storage systems.

Wightman added, “What the survey seems to indicate is that it’s the smaller, perhaps younger, businesses that are really pushing their use of technology. The more established businesses seem to be struggling to understand the benefits and how to implement the technologies for maximum advantage. This is likely to be a major factor in slowing their growth moving forward. At Cisco, we are constantly looking for ways to deliver affordable and intuitive solutions specific to the individual needs of businesses of every scale. Cisco’s Smart Business Solutions, which integrate technologies, services, support and finance, are evidence of this. Cisco Secure Network Foundation and Business Communications Solutions, part of the Smart Business Roadmap, enable business to have real-time access to information, from any location, to support immediate decision making and improve customer relationships.”

The high-technology take-up translates into an annual technology spend of £62,500 for most small businesses. However, as well as highlighting the small-business leaders, the research also revealed a number of technology dinosaurs. One in 10 businesses that employs an average of 116 staff is spending just £7,000 on technology per year, or £60 per person, leaving the business inadequately resourced. Financial businesses were the biggest spenders, with 55 percent of respondents spending over £100,000 per year.

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