Australians are continuing to embrace digital technologies at an ever-increasing rate, according to a recent report released by the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE).
Australia is rated among the top five technologically-savvy countries in the world, with 82 per cent of 12-24 year olds reporting that they regularly access the Internet. Adult Internet use has also crept up, with 43 per cent of adult Australians having reportedly accessed the Internet.
Despite increases in penetration, e-commerce, especially in the B2B sector, faces some interesting challenges.
While the SME sector is interested in the potential of the Internet, studies published on the NOIE Web site clearly show there are some major barriers preventing them from pursuing their interest any further.
Chris Percival, CEO of SME-focused e-commerce solutions vendor Senacon, said that he was well aware of the concerns expressed on the Web site, describing e-commerce as a "black hole" for smaller companies.
"Many of these companies are interested in the technology, but are wary of the costs involved in e-commerce. Because they lack the skills in-house to develop an e-commerce approach, they are concerned about making the right decisions regarding how to harness the Web," Percival said.
He believes that the key to introducing the SME sector to e-commerce offerings is through applications that "make sense to management".
"e-commerce needs to be an extension of what they are already doing," Percival said. "SME businesses just don't have the time or the resources to reorganise their business around Web-enabled offerings, so the offerings have to be designed to work with them."According to the information on the NOIE Web site, some of the main concerns expressed by the SME sector were in relation to security, a lack of understanding/IT experience and concern that online B2C-type environments will detract from the relationship selling that many SME companies depend upon.
Megan Clarken, chief of service operations and general manager of resellers for SME e-commerce vendor Peakhour, believes that the most appropriate response to SME concerns is through the channel.
"The SME sector is nervous because they don't feel that they have the skills to deal with the changes in technology. Peakhour focuses on channel partners that can offer SMEs the right kind of support. You just can't target the SME market without the channel support," Clarken commented.
Although Clarken recognises SME businesses have serious concerns relating to security issues, she believes that the sector will gradually come to terms with online security issues.
Andrew Weller, group sales and marketing manager at Internet payment gateway vendor Camtech, believes "security is not just about technology. It is also about developing best practice in this sector," Weller said.
"There is no sure-fire way to convince people that the information online can be made very secure. You need feet on the street and you need to work closely with the channel partners to foster an environment of trust."