Some 95,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the West Midlands have missed out on a business opportunity because of inadequate information and communications technology (ICT), according to a new study.
It is one of the key findings of new research of the region's SMEs commissioned by Lincolnshire County Council. It also reveals that although SMEs recognise the benefits of ICT, many do not have the right knowledge and support to use it in the most beneficial way.
Lincolnshire County Council commissioned the research to coincide with the UK's largest ever roll out of wirelessdelivered advanced broadband for business, which is taking place in Lincolnshire this spring and summer.
Almost a third of respondents (30 per cent) said that they have missed out on a business opportunity because they did not have the right ICT. If applied the West Midlands' 315,000 SMEs, around 95,000 businesses are losing out. This percentage is the highest for any region in the country.
In addition, a majority - 58 per cent - agree that "small businesses do not have the access to ICT knowledge and support that larger businesses do, and this can hinder business development."
Six in ten respondents felt that a lack of suitable ICT prevents flexible working, while only a quarter know what the latest technology - advanced broadband - is and how it can benefit business.
"It is concerning that, although the region's SMEs are recognising the importance of technology such as advanced broadband in improving their business, few are acting on this," said Shelagh Coates, investment and marketing manager for Lincolnshire County Council's economic regeneration team.
"For businesses working in largely rural areas such as Lincolnshire, having this technology puts them on a par with competitors in major cities, revolutionising their business."
According to the council, two thirds (66 per cent) of the region's SMEs want additional help with ICT to make their business run more efficiently, whether this means having more immediate access to ICT support and advice, or having new, affordable ICT in place to help send large files or images more quickly.
Businesses were also asked about how the availability of ICT might affect their organisation more broadly.
Seventy per cent said they would be more likely to consider running their business from a more rural area if they knew that they had access to the same level of communications technology available in cities and major towns.
Moreover, 66 per cent thought that good road and rail connections were less of a factor in deciding where to locate a business if high quality ICT applications were available to help stay in touch with people.
"SMEs employ over one million people in the West Midlands and are the engine room of the economy," added Shelagh Coates.
"Helping them to access and use improved ICT is vital. Our research showed that 91 per cent of SMEs believe that ICT is important or very important to the running of their business. However, a vast proportion of these lack access to, or knowledge of, ICT that could help them become more efficient and productive and, ultimately, more profitable."
* The full research findings are available in a report, Are We Turned On? Using Technology to Boost Business Growth, which is available at www.investinlincolnshire.com