The adoption of information and communications technologies by rural businesses : the case of the South Midlands
In the light of increasing promotion of new information and communications technologies (ICTs) as a tool for economic development, this thesis examines the relationship between ICTs, rural businesses and rural development among rural engineering and manufacturing firms in South Warwickshire and the Cotswolds. Despite high levels of general interest in this subject area, previous research has tended to concentrate on the technical (supply-side) issues of these new technologies; the human (demand-side) aspect has, so far, been largely overlooked. The devised theoretical framework distinguishes between influential factors internal and external to the firm. Empirical research draws upon humanistic behavioural concepts to investigate ICT adoption decision-making processes at the micro-level of individual sectors, enterprises and entrepreneurs in rural areas, and to evaluate the role of external agencies. Firms in the study area are diverse in terms of their ICT adoption and use, and entrepreneurial characteristic and linkages with other businesses and organizations are found to be major determinants of technology requirements and uptake. Two types of firms are identified: inwardly-oriented firms, with local buyer and supplier contacts, which make little use of technology; and outwardly-oriented firms, which use ICTs more intensively and have geographically dispersed networks of customers and suppliers. While notable levels of general awareness of ICTs exist among rural businesses, the initial financial outlay involved, coupled with a lack of knowledge of existing technological solutions and support, and a need for skills training, remain significant disincentives to ICT uptake among smaller firms. Agencies currently lag behind local businesses in terms of their ICT awareness and use, and understanding of the potential development implications of technology. In many cases there is a mis-match between agencies' perceptions of ICT use in rural firms and their response to this area of business support. Although there is a recognition amongst agencies that their client firms are applying new technologies in their business processes, ICTs are seen by the majority of agencies as a future component of business strategy. Thus, appropriate support for firms implementing ICTs is not yet widely accessible. Findings suggest that ICT implementation is not appropriate in all firms; requirements and applications vary widely and there is a need for a tailored approach by agencies and policy makers which takes account of the uniqueness of entrepreneur and firm characteristics.