Small- and medium-sized Canadian enterprises are eagerly adopting more sophisticated IT technologies to help them serve customers better, but equipment vendors and service providers still have some barriers to overcome in servicing the SME market, according to a Cisco Net Impact study released on Thursday.

The study, conducted in June and July by global research consultancy Illuminas, polled senior decision makers from 200 Canadian firms, each employing fewer than 500 workers.

The increasing intricacy of IT implementations among SMEs is what stood out in the study, says Jay Shutter, managing director of Illuminas. “The infrastructure, when you look at what’s installed, is very similar to the enterprise,” he notes.

For example, 75 per cent of the firms surveyed are looking at the same kind of application functions as enterprises, including finance, accounting, inventory control and customer relationship management (CRM), explains David De Abreu, vice-president of commercial operations at Cisco Canada.

That doesn’t mean they’re using exactly the same technology as larger businesses though, Shutter notes. “When they say CRM they’re not talking about a Siebel or Oracle system,” he says. “It’s not the same level of enterprise technology, but they use the technology in the same fashion as a large enterprise – to provide information faster and the ability to do things online.”

While SMEs see value in implementing new technology there are significant barriers. The three biggest are budget, time and a lack of skilled IT staff.

“What we’ve seen is 37 per cent of them have full-time IT staff,” De Abreu says. “The rest of them are looking for the small and medium partners to deliver, implement and support a lot of the infrastructure.”

While SMEs generally have a positive perception of external service providers, there is room for improvement. Fifty-one per cent of survey respondents agreed with the statement that outside providers offered scalable solutions for SMEs; 47 per cent thought providers understood their business needs; and 55 per cent were happy with after-sale support.

“There’s no question that one of the key takeaways is the technology industry still needs to do a better job of providing the solutions and resources for the SME market,” Shutter says.

The survey will help Cisco shape its SME strategy going forward, De Abreu says. “We’re going to use it to create solutions strategies with our partners to remove some of the barriers such as lack of budget and lack of time.”

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