Do SMEs have technology fatigue?

In recent weeks, this blog has explored some of the reasons that our SMEs are slow to embrace what to many of us are exciting and revolutionary new digital capabilities.

Some have questioned this and pointed to Australia’s well-documented love of all things techie.

But speak to any SME operator or manager and they won’t hesitate to tell you: “I just don’t have time to keep up with everything that’s going on with technology.”

It’s a stance that’s reflected in all the statistics: less than half of SMEs have a website of any substance; less than a third have embraced social networking; and only a fraction have leapt into business ‘apps’.

The trend is becoming increasingly clear. While Australians are repeatedly reported as being the earliest of adopters, its smaller business operators are far less enthusiastic – taking years to embrace all but the most basic digital advances.

And the trend is worsening with each new and increasingly regular development.

Adoption gaps widen

In the following graph, I’ve attempted to plot this ‘adoption gap’ with four key digital communication developments: websites, email marketing, social networking and ‘apps’ (market penetration figures are approximate).

adoption-gap-graph

In green, we see the comparative adoption of websites between consumers and SMEs, in blue, email marketing, in red, social networking and, in orange, smartphone and device ‘apps’.

As is abundantly clear, consumers have flocked to these new technologies pretty much the moment they left the IT lab. None more so than social networking, which in only ten years is now more popular than television in some demographics; but apps aren’t far behind, with every owner of a smartphone or tablet automatically becoming an app user (because every application is accessed via an app).

Even relatively slow email marketing has enjoyed recent growth due to the boom in deal websites and their accompanying email blasts.

High degrees of difficulty for SMEs

The major reason for the difference in the rate of adoption is barriers to entry. The use of these technologies is relatively easy for consumers who simply need to learn how to use them and access them for free, whereas businesses need to be involved in creating the technology and content each comprises, as well as finding the budget to do so.

What’s more, these digital technologies are resource hungry and each new technology requires even more resources to learn, create and maintain them.

The result is more often than not that the time-poor business operator delays the investigation and introduction of the new development as long as possible – leading to the widening ‘adoption gaps’ the graph indicates.

In theory, business operators work out over time which techniques work best for them and reduce or abandon a previous technique – provided they get the chance to properly test them in the market.

And while bigger businesses have the resources to hire teams to investigate and trial new communication techniques, smaller business have no such luxury and are left to glean what they can from the barrage of information and hype that accompanies each development.

No let-up in technology… or hype

The smaller business operators I deal with and meet regularly are pretty consistent in their comments – they’re pretty much exhausted with the pace of change with many yearning for the old days when it was all so simple.

Some even prefer to retire early rather than have to cope with keeping up with the incessant rate of change.

But where some see threats, others see opportunities. Which is it for your business?

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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