A business colleague who runs a IT company was lamenting to me as to why do SMEs distrust IT so much. She pointed out to me that SMEs claim in one breath that IT brings them many benefits but with the other do not see the value in investing in technology. She continued to point out that SMEs only seem to invest in IT in a break/fix scenario.
While I agreed with her on some of her points I pointed out that SMEs do not understand technology and without in-house expertise fail to appreciate the benefits it brings. In my experience many of them are at the mercy of their IT supplier and depend on them to advise them on what they need. All well and good if the IT supplier is good but not so when the IT supplier is not up to scratch – even more so if that advisor is a PC enthusiast advising the CEO on what to implement. After all how many CEOs would get their nephew who is an accountancy student to audit their accounts? Yet these same people are often willing to have their whole IT infrastructure designed and implemented by their friend or relative who is “a whiz kid at computing”.
The big problem in my opinion is not the level of support available from various companies but a lack of understanding by most SME business owner/managers on how IT works and how to apply it to their business.
Currently many SMEs become aware of IT when it does not work, then IT is the worst investment ever made as it now costs money for an expensive (in their minds) engineer to come and fix it. So as a result of poor initial choices and then only being in contact with IT experts in a “break/fix” scenario, IT is viewed with poor regard by many businesses.
What is needed is better education to the SMEs on how IT can benefit their businesses and how to apply various technologies to enable them to achieve their business goals more effectively and efficiently. IT service companies need to help these companies along this path. The challenge though is now that SMEs view IT and as a result IT suppliers, with a suspicious eye, many SMEs will take a long time to come to this conclusion.
However, in other markets many companies are going down the outsourcing route for their IT. IT service companies provide ongoing management of the IT environment either remotely or by installing staff onsite for bigger customers. This in effect makes the IT service company the IT department for the SME.
A well drafted SLA with precise roles and responsibilities together with operational service targets will help ease the SME into this area. As I pointed out to my colleague the problem though is not costing this service but highlighting the value the service can bring to the business, two very different concepts that some SME owners will find difficult to grasp.