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Small businesses and information technology: risk, planning and change

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Some of the factors contributing to the risks SMEs take when implementing information technology were investigated in a questionnaire survey of 18 small businesses in the Greater Manchester area, complemented by interviews with the advisers working at the Greater Manchester Business Innovation Centre. New technology can seem a threat to small business owner-managers and there is a link between business growth and the use of IT. There has been increased adoption of all categories of software, from databases, CAD-CAM and presentation packages, to spreadsheets and communications software, but respondents expressed dissatisfaction with software, more than with hardware. There is a perceived lack of expertise in the planning process as well as the technology itself. Responses were split over loss of managerial control: SME owner-managers want to remain in control, IT may be associated with growth, and some may resist growth. A strong need for impartial advice, independent from computer vendors, has been expressed, and a worrying number of respondents did not consider maintenance and training costs when purchasing technology. Organisational factors such as staff skill levels, familiarisation time, and the impact on jobs, were rarely considered prior to purchase. Opinions on training provision were divided. More complex IT-related business and organisational changes may require integrated technical and managerial training, so that SMEs can become more strategically oriented and benefit better from IT.

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