Toying with Technology; (1) Enterprise for London (2) Avoid Pointless Purchases for the Office at All Costs

Article excerpt

Byline: GUY CLAPPERTON

QUESTION: When is a business asset not an asset? Answer: when it is an executive toy, bought by a directors, which adds no value to the business.

This sort of thinking will be behind the London Chamber of Commerce's recent findings in its survey: Using IT: Small Business and Technology.

The organisation spoke to 2,500 small business managers and published their responses last month. In short, more than half of the companies surveyed failed to increase their business by going online and a third had not updated their web sites since they first uploaded them. Larger companies were more likely to market their web sites than their smaller competition and cybercrime was a problem - 61 per cent of companies had suffered from it, while just 67 per cent of companies had carried out a security audit.

Criticisms of the smaller traders, predictably enough, have abounded.

E-commerce and Competition Minister Stephen Timms said e-commerce had the potential to revolutionise business, while Isabella Moore, president-elect of the British Chamber of Commerce, says more work needs to be done.

The trouble can often be in assessing what constitutes work and what constitutes a gimmick. Bill Wells, one of the UK Online for Business advisers attached to the Business Link network, believes part of the problem has to do with inappropriate purchases rather than under-spending. "I was called in by a start-up just a couple of weeks ago," he says. "The directors all had desktop computers as well as laptops.

But why, when they could have had laptops and docking stations on their desks, taking their information with them when they go out?"

Their purchasing decision was presumably based on the principle that someone needs two separate computers - one for indoors and one for travelling.

However, there is rarely any need for this.

There are other examples of inappropriate or unnecessary buying. Another of Wells' clients wanted to improve the handling of its customer information, and so enquired about tuition in Microsoft Access, the database product that comes with various versions of MS Office. "I asked why, when they could get a customer relationship management product - that did not require training - more cheaply than MS Access," he said. "The attitude was that Access must be right as it is part of Office."

As a former programmer, Wells knew Access to be a good product, but he also knew it would be overkill for simple customer management. To get the most out of it, a user would have to familiarise themselves with some complex database technology. …