Interview: SMEs face a real challenge to get online » SMEInsider

Interview: SMEs face a real challenge to get online

During the European Commission’s SME Assembly in Luxembourg, SME Insider spoke with Julian David, CEO of techUK and vice president of the National Trade Associations at Digital Europe. On the agenda was how SMEs can go digital, and why the government should be more business-centric when implementing faster broadband.

Tell me more about techUK

techUK is the digital trade association for anybody in digital technology. We represent those who start from the ground up, all the way through to the internet companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Microsoft etc. Most of the companies that we represent are small and medium-sized businesses.

There are lots of tech entrepreneurs who are prospering in the UK, but over a million ‘traditional’ SMEs lack basic digital skills. Do you think some small business owners are being left behind in the wake of the ‘tech revolution’?

They face a real challenge. Statistics have shown that around 30 per cent of UK SMEs actively trade online. That number is far greater than most European countries, but that figure is still very low. More needs to be done to get small businesses online.

They are particularly missing out on what the industry calls ‘SMAC’ technology – Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud. These forms of technology provide a great opportunity for SME owners to grow their companies at low cost, so they should be encouraged to become more tech savvy.

smiling woman at laptop

What advice can you give to the more ‘traditional’ SME owners that are struggling to adapt online?

They are already online in a sense, because their employees are most likely using mobile technology. What SME owners need to do is harness the power of the cloud. The services that are available on the cloud are really meant for small businesses.

The ability to spin something up on a pay-as-you-go basis and spin it down when you need to (accountancy software for example) is a great tool for SMEs.

What SMEs have to understand is that it’s all about data, as this is what can help you understand your customers better. Also, if you’re not already using low-cost forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, then you’re really missing out on connecting with potential new customers.

You say 30 per cent of UK SMEs are trading online. What can the government do to turn that figure into 100 per cent?

They are already doing some things to be fair. To start with, they need to make sure that SMEs can get connected to the internet. We recently produced a survey about broadband connectivity for SMEs.

We found that there are too many ‘not spots’ around the country in both fixed and mobile broadband and discovered that there is too much focus on consumer use instead of business use.

The government has said that it will deliver on a universal service programme (whereby all families and small businesses will gain an internet connection of 10mbps), but we keep saying that there needs to be a bigger focus on businesses than consumers.

Do you think 10mbps is enough?

I made a point when minister Ed Vaizey when he made the announcement that there needs to be a bigger focus on small businesses. The government here is focusing more on consumers when they made this pledge, as they need fast download speeds. But what SMEs need is fast upload speeds and for many of them, 10mbps is not enough.

Do you think Vaizey is the right man to be in charge?

Ed Vaizey is very committed to our industry, but he needs more help. Clearly a bigger investment needs in the tech infrastructure in the UK and we need to keep the pace with other nations.

There is already talk of using 5G, which is the next stage of integrated communications; faster speeds, better management of fixed and mobile in the same environment. That is what Vaizey needs to look into next.