SMEs find IT consultants unhelpful

Small and medium businesses are not comfortable working with IT consultants on e-commerce, according to initial findings of a research project by Victoria University.

Small and medium businesses are not comfortable working with IT consultants on e-commerce, according to initial findings of a research project by Victoria University.

Ongoing research by Professor Sid Huff and Dr Pak Yoong from Victoria University’s school of communications and information on the e-commerce issues and concerns of New Zealand SMEs has so far revealed that organisations are grappling with the question of whether to develop e-commerce initiatives in-house or use outsiders.

Representatives from nine Wellington-based firms voiced some strong concerns regarding the use of IT contractors, says Huff. One participant likened IT consultants and contractors to a “rogues’ gallery” while others said few IT consultants were sufficiently up to speed in e-commerce technologies and that consultants would contract with a customer organisation to learn what they should have known already.

While concerns about skills and knowledge were assessed as important, upmost in people’s minds was the financial impact of e-commerce.

This covers cost of implementation, uncertainty associated with that cost, whether or not there is a payback, whether e-commerce will generate revenue and the most appropriate pricing models.

Next down from financial impact was new ways of building and managing customers’ relationships – how to do this while changing to e-commerce mode – worries about loss of personal contact, the nature of trust in the e-commerce relationship, how to handle the 24X7 aspect of e-commerce, and how to handle customer expectation.

Managing e-commerce arrangement was third on the list. This covers the impact of e-commerce on current business and organisational procedures, the danger of implementing it poorly, an ongoing requirement to maintain and continue to develop e-commerce policies, deciding what to give away and what to sell, on whether to adopt a ‘first mover’ or ‘fast follower’ policy.

Huff says general observations so far are that people are strongly concerned about the impact of e-commerce on their customers and much less worried about the impact on suppliers and other business partners.

Participants' comments also tended to be negative in tone, emphasising the difficulties and hurdles rather than the opportunities and benefits, he says.

The study was presented at the e-commerce summit in Auckland and can be found at http://www.scim.vuw.ac.nz/users/huffs/summit

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