A Nation of shopkeepers? Napoleon’s comments about the UK being a nation of shopkeepers might now look somewhat misplaced. The diversity and range of UK businesses would make the Frenchman eat his words. Small and medium sized enterprises are a growing and vital part of the UK economy. There are an estimated 4.3 million SME’s in the UK, a figure which is continuing to rise and they are not all shopkeepers Monsieur. SME’s represent more than 99% of all businesses in the UK and together they account for more than half of the employment (58.5%) and turnover (51.3%) in this country. The rapid evolution of communications services and the internet in particular, over the past ten years has revolutionised the way that UK SME’s do business – for example, offering new channels to market, helping to deliver improved customer service, delivering improved internal communication and enabling the production of higher quality products and services. It has also facilitated considerable internal operating benefits – increasing mobility and flexibility in the workplace and the sharing of information across organisations. A SME can be defined as being any actively trading business with between one and 250 employees. OFCOM data indicates that 84% of SME’s use the internet, 90% have PC’s, while 98% have fixed line telephone services. Difficulties and perceptions The person responsible for information technology in around half (55%) of SMEs is the owner/manager. This is totally understandable as it is the main priority of owner/managers to keep their business running. IT forms a relatively small part of their role and can get buried or forgotten in the normal day to day management of their business. Typically, IT issues are found to account for less than one-third of the decision-maker’s time. One-fifth of SMEs (20%) employ ‘dedicated’ personnel, spending more than two-thirds of their time on IT issues. In many small businesses, IT is not necessarily catered for in the business plan as a specific item and dedicated IT personnel are generally not involved in business planning or strategy meetings. Only the most ‘progressive’ SMEs have a proactive approach to new investment as a result of integrating communications services into the overall business decision-making process. Most SMEs are still dealing with IT on a reactive, ad-hoc basis, funding projects without access to a pre-assigned budget or without a lot of forward or strategic planning. Going forward Although the majority of SMEs have embraced Information and Communications Technology to some degree, many do not feel confident, competent or effective when dealing with technology. It appears to be widely accepted among SMEs that dealing with ICT can bring difficulties and indeed headaches. This arises from the struggle in determining the benefits that technology can bring and the investment of time and energy required to take advantage of it. It’s the old and never ending cost per benefit argument. On the one hand technology is a powerful tool that can have a huge impact on the business in terms of providing ‘quicker, cheaper, smarter’ ways of doing things; on the other hand it is a constantly changing entity which is very difficult to keep up-to-date with, let alone plan ahead for. Many businessess are not aware of leading edge technology and if they have come across new products such as VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or bonding, they won’t necessarily see how the business will benefit. Service providers have a responsibility to ensure that product information is clear and concise and indeed where possible, jargon free. The ability to speak with and communicate directly with any business customer is vital to ensure that their needs are met and that their understanding of the products and services on offer is crystal clear. The Benefits -How can broadband help your business? ICT and the internet in particular can bring huge benefits to any business. Broadband can help your business be more competitive. With broadband, staff can make greater use of the Internet to source information, improve processes, download services and applications - all helping to deliver improved efficiency and customer service. Improved efficiency brings cost benefits. Fast Access A broadband connection gives you fast access to the Internet. The connection is always on and available immediately. This constant connection allows businesses to take greater advantage of the Internet in a number of ways. Improved efficiency An always connection to the Internet can change the way your business works. Linking together your back-office systems to your website can help you do business more quickly and reduce administration costs. Being online also enables you to automate certain tasks such as transactions, order tracking and stock ordering. Linking remote sites to back end systems improves stock control, sales analysis and order management. Cost benefits By paying a flat fee for broadband access, companies can see cost savings whilst also making more and better use of the Internet. In many cases, no new phone line is needed as the benefits can be realised from upgrading an existing line. The initial outlay should be easily recouped, thanks to a more streamlined and efficient way of doing business. Introduce VOIP and watch that phone bill reduce massively. Better customer and supplier relations Broadband lets you get closer to your customers and suppliers. Businesses can use it to offer customers round-the-clock access to account information, order status and project details. Suppliers can collect data to improve their service to you, leading to increased responsiveness to your needs. Improved communications and management Broadband makes it easier for everyone to have and use individual email addresses, enabling staff to communicate more effectively, and helping reduce phone and postage bills. There is also the option of greater collaborative working and videoconferencing, which could reduce meeting and travel costs. Flexibility With a broadband connection, your business can become more flexible and adapt to your staff, customers’ and suppliers’ needs. Mobile or home-working staff can access your network remotely, which can save you money on office space whilst enabling them to access and contribute to each other’s documents. Flexible working makes your organisation more effective and competitive by saving time and unnecessary journeys. The ability to work from home increases productivity and can improve employee satisfaction. Whats next So my first article is complete. The benefits of business broadband are there but we still have some myths to dispel and some facts to delve into. I’ll expand on the benefits of broadband for businesses in future articles, commencing with the increasing trend in home working or teleworking. As PlusNet's Business Services Manager, part of my job is to ensure that we deliver the best products, services, account management and support to business customers. Our high quality, dedicated business team, coupled with our intelligent traffic management and our knowledge gained from 10 years of providing services to businesses, puts us in a superb position to deliver what UK business needs now and in the future. Quality business products with dedicated UK-based support PlusNet is the perfect partner for business broadband. We've been supplying businesses for over 10 years so we know what your business needs from an Internet provider. Partner with us and you're partnering with an ISP that's won numerous awards for delivering a quality broadband service. The PlusNet Partner Programme is aimed at Channel Partners, IT resellers, SMEs, SoHo and corporate clients. For resellers and partners, you can offer PlusNet broadband to your customers and clients and add value and margin to your existing product portfolio. You will own the relationship with your customers; the partner programme works much like a white-label offering.We have a dedicated team to support you, from helping you sell broadband through to training, support and provisioning.For corporate customers needing multiple broadband connections, we offer centralised billing, making payment easy.