Facing a Net Loss as the Pace Hots Up for Firms

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Byline: Steve Pain Technology Editor

West Midlands companies - particularly smaller sized businesses - are in danger of being left behind in the fast-paced world of e-commerce, according to local expert Graham Flynn.

Despite falling tech stocks and failing dotcoms, he says, predictions for the value of business conducted over the Internet during the next five years continue in the trillions of dollars.

Mr Flynn, one of the training experts at the Centre for Advanced Telematics, part of the University of Birmingham's School of Computer Science, said: 'There are almost daily examples of how leading companies have transformed themselves and enhanced their profitability through e-business.'

Small and medium-sized firms looking to win a slice of the action need to consider a number of factors.

'For most business owners, this raises more questions than answers,' said Mr Flynn. 'What should my strategy be? Which technology should I be using? How quickly will it be superseded? What are my suppliers and customers doing? Are my plans compatible with theirs? How much is it all going to cost?

'These are familiar questions and we meet many SMEs that are highly skilled in their core business activities but have limited technical resources to draw on.

'They are often relying upon IT literate or enthusiastic employees to manage their computing needs and with such limitations it is not surprising that the e-business challenge seems daunting.'

He points to the Telematics Centre, an ERDF-funded project within the University of Birmingham's School of Computer Science, saying is has helped over 30 SMEs with information and communication technology projects.

'Only one of these SMEs has implemented an e-business system, using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).

'The system enables the company to electronically send and receive business documentation and payments regarding its key customers, which has greatly improved day to day scheduling and management of their operation.

'The majority of companies we have assisted only have internet and e-mail access with usage often restricted to the owner or top management and not incorporated throughout the business.

'Without wider employee understanding of how these technologies can be applied for day-to-day procedures, such SMEs are significantly limiting their ability to compete with their more 'web savvy' counterparts. …