Small businesses are still unsatisfied with the quality of IT services the sector receives, according to an IDC report released last week.
Over 300 businesses of between 10 and 99 employees were interviewed for IDC Australia's Small Business Survey. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of various factors of service provision and the performance of IT service providers in meeting these criteria.
Gianco Melcarne, IDC analyst, stressed that "it wasn't good news" for IT suppliers.
Technical expertise, quality of service, speed of delivery, willingness to transfer knowledge and skills and full service capabilities all had a rating of over four in a system where five was considered most important.
According to Tony Taylor, general manager of reseller Synergy, small business expectations have always been difficult to manage. "There is a big mismatch of small business expectation and IT practicality," said Taylor.
This is due in part to the lack of IT skills and knowledge in the small business sector, a situation Taylor does not see changing rapidly and one that prompted him to recommend that all small businesses outsource all of their IT services. "If they are not willing to pay much they won't get good people and will generally only learn through bitter experience."
Simon Price, director of marketing at software developer BMC, suggests that small businesses feel alienated from the suppliers, the exact people who they trust the most based on size and reputation. "Small businesses don't have the buying power so don't get air play with a lot of the big companies. So they lose contact with the suppliers."
Price advocated an Internet campaign by the IT industry to provide small businesses - a potentially lucrative sector in Australia especially - with satisfactory services. "The Internet has allowed the flow of information to a greater extent than ever before. Large organisations should prepare more content for small businesses because they are very office bound. You need to make the information available to them there and then," said Price.
Taylor's solution was to structure Synergy's services to small businesses more rigidly, allowing them a choice of services but always defining what it was they got and how much it cost. "We've made our services very tight. If customers want ad hoc service they can get it or if they want to fully outsource their IT services we give them a fixed price," said Taylor.
Surprisingly, the things that service providers pride themselves on - low prices, strong partnerships and a global presence - were all well down the list of priorities for small businesses, according to the report.