Canadian E-Business Initiative focuses on SMEs

Several Canadian enterprises, public-sector institutions and IT product manufacturers have formed a vast partnership network to educate and provide metrics for small business about e-business opportunities.

The Canadian e-Business Initiative

(CeBI) officially launched Thursday with the introduction of the organizations involved, which have been divided into project teams that will encourage e-business development in the small and medium enterprise (SME) space. These include benchmarking on the state of e-business in Canada and transformation of business process and privacy, among others. Chief executives with York University, Purolator Courier, e-Trade Canada, the Canadian Bankers’ Association and several other groups have committed resources towards CeBI, which will receive support from the Electronic Commerce branch of Industry Canada.

CeBI is the successor to the Canadian E-Business Roundtable, which has a mission of accelerating the country’s participation in the new economy. Its main achievements were a series of reports called “”Fast Forward,”” which were essentially calls to action. The most recent version, Fast Forward 3.0: Maintaining the Momentum, was released in March.

Like CeBI, the Roundtable split up into sub-teams to focus on specific areas like acceleration, capital markets, international branding, talent pool and Government On-Line. Pierre Paul Allard, president of Cisco Systems Canada and CeBI’s co-chair, said the efforts of his group will be more concentrated.

“”The roundtable was the first of its kind. E-business and all the issues it tackled were new,”” he said. “”It was taking a widespread look at this and tried to attack issues that were across the board. What we’re doing in CeBI is taking the great work that they’ve done and then we’re focusing.””

Research firm IDC, which participated in the Roundtable and is now part of CeBI, surveyed small businesses last year. They said they expected around three per cent of their revenues to come over the Web. U.S. small businesses predicted 17 per cent. Canadian organizations where also finding it hard to see return-on-investment, particularly large companies. These challenges are part of the motivation behind CeBI, Allard said, considering that the SME space represents more than 60 per cent of the Canadian economy.

“”We feel like large enterprise, the carriers — they get it. They have agendas that are driving it,”” he said. “”We also don’t have to focus on e-government; that’s the government’s job.””

Boris Kluck, assistant vice-president of customer marketing East at Telus, is a member of the e-business engagement team, which is focusing on awareness and adoption of Internet products. While the teams’ activities are still in the development stage, Kluck said ideas include the creation of an assessment tool SMEs would use to learn more about themselves.

“”They can go online and take a temperature check, if you will, of where they are in terms of e-business development,”” he said. “”I think there are lots of good tactical things that we can do to really help small and medium enterprises see where they’re at and what next steps they can take in terms of transforming their businesses.””

Albert Wahbe, Scotiabank’s vice-president of electronic banking, is leading the online privacy and security team. He said his group will examine legislation and best practices, offering tools that will put the issues in language SMEs will understand.

“”We call it in the technology world ‘authenticity.’ The small business says, ‘How do I know who sent me this order?'”” he said. “”What we’re trying to do in developing our tools for security and privacy is to keep in mind the audience and the medium we’re dealing could answer these questions.””

The scope of CeBI is approximately two years. Preliminary results from a “”Net Impact”” study on the effectiveness of Internet technologies in the SME space will be released in November from the benchmarking and metrics team.

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