IT research maintains optimistic note

The Internet and high-tech economies are rebounding according to two industry surveys, but one polling expert says boosterism and selective questioning can taint positive results.

A study released recently by Association of Internet Marketing and Sales (AIMS Canada) reports that 92 per cent of respondents are employed and 62 per cent had worked at the same firm for a year.

AIMS is an organization of Internet sales and marketing professionals that are self-employed or work in the Internet divisions of Canadian corporations – from high-tech to banking to insurance to retail. Of its 4,100 members, 772 responded to the online poll conducted in July.

AIMS president Ken Schafer says the 92 per cent employment rate is an accurate reflection of the online sales and marketing industry, though he didn’t anticipate the result. “We were pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I think even more so that people still had a really positive attitude about it. We were concerned that people were getting so caught up in the doom and gloom.”

That’s the reason AIMS went ahead with the survey in the first place, according to Shafer. He said the dot-com bust produced “an overly dramatic negativism” among Internet professionals. “A lot of good ideas are getting pushed aside.”

Injecting optimism into a downtrodden industry is a major factor when such studies are commissioned, according to Tom Smith, director of the general social survey, at the National Opinion Research Center in the University of Chicago. “One of the reasons why surveys are done are entirely promotional,” he said.

“A significant degree of survival bias” may be one reason why the results of the AIMS study appear so positive, said Smith.

Of the 772 AIMS members surveyed, one per cent said they regretted getting involved in the Internet. “There’s some real chance of bias, especially when you get that one per cent figure, commented Smith. “A lot of the people who would be the ones with the regret aren’t being reached.”

A recent survey of B.C. technology CEOs, commissioned by the B.C. Technology Industries Association and conducted by polling firm Ipsos-Reid, reported enthusiastic optimism about the future of the high-tech economy.

The survey addressed 157 CEOs – chiefs of firms ranging from 10 employees to enterprise size – and indicates 24 per cent of respondents feel the B.C. high-tech economy is “good” or very “good.” In contrast, 83 per cent said the economy will be doing “a little better” or “a lot better” a year from now.

When asked about their own companies, 58 per cent of CEOs said their business activities were “good” or “very good,” and 92 per cent said they will be doing better a year from now.

The reason for the dramatic difference between current and future perceptions of B.C. IT economic performance is a change in provincial government, said the association’s executive director George Hunter. The NDP was recently ousted in favour of a Liberal government. “I think it pretty accurately reflects the view that under administration the B.C. economy would do much better now than it has in the past,” he said.

The association has conducted its poll for the last four years, though this is the first time they have handed over the reigns to Ipsos-Reid. Partial results of the 2001 study were released Aug. 2, with the study to be published in full in the coming weeks.

Partial studies may be indicative of “cherry-picking,” said Smith. “Someone has cherry-picked the findings and is only releasing the stuff that is consistent with the party line. The stuff that’s either negative or presents a more mixed picture may not have been given out.”

According to Smith, broad or imprecise questions can be misleading and their responses lack any real resonance or meaning. “You have to be a little bit careful about how they’re framing things,” he said. “If you just ask, Does the next year look good for you?, then that’s not really meaningful.”

However, when the full report is released, answers on spending habits and hiring practices will be included and that information can be used as more reliable indicators of future economic trends, said Smith. It may just be crystal ball gazing in the end, but to get the best predictor of IT performance the best people to ask are the customers, he added.

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