ITAC forms ‘eTeam’ to tackle SMEs’ lack of IT adoption

The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) has organized a group of technology companies to come up with ways of bolstering technology adoption rates among Canadian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help strengthen Canada’s

global competitiveness.

The “eTeam” has been given a one-year mandate to meet as often as it needs to and create sub-groups to identify how it can tackle low adoption rates. At the end of the year, the eTeam will report to ITAC and Industry Canada, also a supporter, on its findings.

“In the case of e-business and the e-economy everybody knows and expects Canada to be a world leader,” said Bernard Courtois, president of ITAC. “However, there are pockets of places where we can really benefit from doing better.”

The project is based on a series of studies prepared for the Canadian e-Business Initiative (CeBI) that show poor rates of adoption of Internet business solutions among SMEs.

ITAC, for example, looked at a recent report by the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity that revealed a per cent prosperity gap between Canada and the U.S. To close this gap, the report recommended increased investment in machinery, equipment and software.

In October 2004, CeBI released a report that found e-business adoption among SMEs was growing slowly across business size and sectors.

Similarly, Courtois noted the prosperity gap is caused by a combination of decreased investment in information and communications technologies (ICT), and, to a greater degree, the need to change the ways companies do business to better utilize them.

The team is comprised of a range of technology firms including Hewlett-Packard Canada, Sun Microsystems of Canada, JED New Media, IDC Canada, Cisco Systems of Canada, Motorola Canada, Bell Canada, Aliant Inc., IBM Canada, Microsoft Canada, eBay and GSI Consulting Services Inc. The team is led by Tom Turchet, who vice-president of SMB software for IBM Americas. Turchet was unavailable for comment at press time.

Brad Keates, vice-president of alliances and channels for Sun Microsystems of Canada, said Sun, a longtime ITAC board member, was initially interested in the project as it is continuously trying to find out what motivates certain customer sets such as SME.

“We approached it initially from the perspective of how other companies looked at it,” said Keates. “SMEs in general are not so much interested in technology problems as they are interested in solutions to their business problems.”

Coming at it from an SME perspective, Joanne Duchastel, president of Montreal-based JED New Media, which provides Web-based e-learning tools geared at SMEs, said most of the marketing to this market is done through retailers.

“There’s a great interest (in SME) among all businesses but nobody knows how to attack and market to the small and medium business,” said Duchastel.

Because the SMB market is relatively undefined as it can range from self-employed workers to companies of up to 500 employees, it can be challenging to market to, Duchastel said.

“If the range is very large, your target market is very large.”

There are also different industries within the SME segment, Duchastel added. SME, for example, can include retail outlets, dry cleaners, restaurants as well as more traditional small businesses in manufacturing.

Courtois said adoption is not so much of a technology issue as a question of trust and familiarity.

“If a retailer knows that one of its friends or competitors is adopting a particular technology solution and it works for them, they’re more likely to adopt it as opposed to a vendor or consultant trying to sell them the technology,” he said.

Likewise, Keates said the price tag is not usually the deterrent for these types of companies.

“The roadblocks are not related to affordability,” said Keates. “They don’t see what the business payback or returns look like. It becomes an expensive proposition and naturally they take it very seriously.”

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