The use of the Internet in small to medium-sized enterprises
Information technology, particularly the Internet has the potential to radically change the way business is conducted, offering a competitive edge and a gateway to the global marketplace. The explosive growth and commercialisation of the Internet has opened up a vast arena providing more opportunities for businesses, particularly SMEs to sell their products and service to a global audience than they would have be able to afford to reach using the traditional methods. There is tremendous potential for SMEs to harness the power of the Internet to improve their productivity and sharpen their competitive edge in both local and international markets. The Internet is viewed as a means through which SMEs could extend their geographic reach at minimal cost and to integrate and expand their business practices globally. Through such means it is argued that small companies could compete effectively against larger firms as the Internet is believed to be a great equaliser. The contribution of SMEs is extremely important to the economy of many countries and their contribution cannot be over emphasised. SMEs account for more than 50% of private sector employment in the UK and are currently contributing most of the private sector employment growth. This research reports on the empirical study of SMEs usage of the Internet. The intention is to present evidence on the current status of Internet use among SMEs and show the factors that influence their decision to adopt the Internet in business. Although the Internet has experienced tremendous growth world wide, very little empirical research has been conducted to examine this phenomenon in SMEs context. Questions about what SMEs are using the Internet for and what is driving them to use the technology in their business are still lacking. It is therefore of importance that insight be gained into how SMEs are currently using the Internet and the factors that influence their decision to adopt the Internet in business. In order to achieve these objectives, the research uses a quantitative and qualitative approach in order to provide an in-depth description of how SMEs currently use the Internet and the factors that influence their decision to adopt it. A questionnaire was used to survey 400 SMEs in the UK and 92 usable response (23%) were received. The survey result shows that communication, customer services, information gathering, and advertising are the areas the Internet is used most in SMEs. While the case study result shows that technological, organisational and environmental factors influence SMEs' decision to adopt the Internet. These factors are used to develop a theoretical model for conceptualising the organisational issues around the adoption and use of the Internet--issues that have been largely missing from contemporary discussions of Internet usage in SMEs. The study thus has important implications for research and practice. Specifically, the theoretical model and findings suggest that technological and organisational factors, rather than environmental factors, play a significant role in Internet adoption. Similarly, the study suggests that practitioners will be better able to adopt the Internet in business, if they understand how these factors influence its adoption and usage. The limitations of the study, the contributions of the research, the implications of the research findings and future research are discussed.