Firstline IT survey finds small businesses believe IT is important ‒ but not important enough for a proper budget.

From more-or-less a standing start in the 1980s, the progress of information technology in business over the past 30 years has been explosive.

Even the smallest of microbusinesses can now be assumed at least to have a website and to submit company information online.

But the ubiquity of IT can mask two potential problems. The first is that, although switching on your computer may feel as dependable as switching on your lights, IT systems do go wrong: servers go down, systems get viruses, disks become corrupted. Do small businesses plan adequately for maintaining their systems and recovering their information should the worst happen?

Secondly, the pace of change is so great that some businesses face being left behind. Even if you are not a technology company, if your competitors have faster, more reliable, more flexible systems, they are going to have an edge. On the other hand, if you’re too eager to jump with both feet into new technology, you can find yourself paying too much for a glamorous piece of kit that doesn’t give you any practical advantage.

How do small businesses make sure they keep up to date with technology that’s going to benefit them?

To discover the answers to these two questions, Oxford-based Firstline IT conducted a survey of 200 small business owners throughout the UK. Headline findings were:

Most small business owners believe that IT is important

52% of respondents thought that IT was an essential and continuous investment for their businesses. 20% admitted that they weren’t interested in IT personally, but knew that having the right IT mattered. 22% said they used computers, but claimed that IT was not important to their businesses. It would be interesting to see if they maintained that view after a major system failure.

But hardly any budget for it properly

In fact, only 3% of respondents have a firm budget for IT spend. 29% said that they periodically review their needs and spend money accordingly, but it is very likely that those periods could get longer and longer as other spending needs take priority. 55% said that they spent money when they had to.

Small businesses feel that they know enough about IT

76% of respondents agreed or agreed strongly with the statement, “I have all the knowledge I need to make key IT decisions for my business.”

Little of this knowledge comes from external IT experts

An impressive 42% claim that they personally keep up to date with IT developments, with 25% asking friends and people in their business networks. 11% have at least one employee who knows about IT. Given the rapidity with which new technology hits the market, and the many other things that small business owners have to occupy them, it is difficult to believe that all 84 of these respondents really are as knowledgeable as they think they are.

Only 7% of respondents have a dedicated IT support provider. 54% search online to find out what they need to know.

Keeping costs down is top of the list of interests

We asked them which aspects of IT they wanted to know more about. The top three answers were:

  1. Keeping IT up to date without having to spend a fortune
  2. Reducing the costs of IT
  3. Disaster-proofing IT

25% of respondents wanted to know more about using the cloud for their business IT.