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Fortune Favours the Cautious

“Seventy thousand small businesses to fold” was the banner headline in the business section of a leading Sunday newspaper. A little further on, a page devoted to the work of InterForum tells us that eBusiness is transforming our ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’, adjacent to a column which reveals that playing company paintball isn’t always the best way of building a good management team.

There are times when I wonder if the lunatics are running the asylum. Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn certainly appear to think so and perhaps one or other of them should have a technology column.

On the one hand, you see, we’re being fed the message that spending money and effort on ‘e’ is having a transformative effect on the UK economy while on the other hand, the evidence suggests that red-tape, globalisation, high costs, taxes and insurance, are crippling our smaller businesses regardless of whether they are Web-enabled or not. In fact, I rather suspect that eBusinesses are failing as fast or even faster than any other kind of business.

A well-meaning government has fallen short of its target of having most businesses online. By this, I mean ‘really online’ not simply going through the motions or just using the telephone, which can, if the statistics demand it, be a grey area, rather like patients in the NHS. Being classified as an eBusiness just isn’t enough., because the ‘e’ that we’re really talking about isn’t a thing, it’s a risky, expensive, time consuming, educational process which can distract and cripple any small company which isn’t prepared for it.

This argument is all about the management of expectations and costs. Business is a fine example of evolutionary Darwinism at its best. You evolve too fast and you’re toast. You evolve too slowly and you’re somebody else’s toast. Statistically, fortune favours not the brave but companies that take technology’s promises with a pinch of salt; one very good reason for the downturn in the IT sector over the last two years. Since 2000, business has learned that a more cautious approach to technology results in a better return on investment but government continues to believe in fairies, which is why it appoints Tsars, to keep them under control.

I’m a firm believer in what technology can do for businesses of all sizes but at the same time, I’m reluctant to accept the argument that a company course of ‘e’, Broadband and a Enterprise Server license, might offer failing companies protection from the colder economic realities of 2003.


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