Reading Digital set to dominate
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) All panellists agreed that there has been a massive change in how small businesses work. Barry Lewis, chairman of the Institute of Directors Berkshire, runs his own software company: "Four years ago, 100% of our products were supplied in a box, but today 50% of the business we do is delivered electronically," he explained. "We have seen 50% growth in the last year and only increased headcount by 15% due to the digital economy."
Jack Bedell-Pearce, commercial and operations director of 4D Data Centres, said in his business they had noted a real increase in SMEs asking about cloud storage. "In the last five years, we have seen SMEs show an increasing awareness in the digital side," he explained. "We are seeing a shift as SMEs move storage to the cloud; it is cheaper, but they should still be aware of the security issues."
When asked to forecast future trends within the digital economy, the panellists all had different takes. Lewis highlighted mobile devices, saying they "will play an increasing role in our lives with the popularity of iPads and consumers being able to access the internet wherever they are".
But Simon Biltcliffe, managing director of print management business Webmart, believed collaboration would be the biggest factor in how we work in the future. "There is a huge opportunity in the next few years in collaborating and sharing. We rely on a large number of people who are not employed by our business. You can harvest a lot of expertise through social media and LinkedIn," he explained.
It became clear that high-speed broadband should be at the top of the government's list of priorities. About half the delegates said they were dissatisfied with their internet connection, reporting issues such as a slow, inconsistent and patchy service.
All of the small businesses that came along to the lively debate had an interest in reaping the benefits of social media.
Nathan McGurl, digital and social media consultant with Lloyds TSB, said firms needed to consider what channel suits their brand and then do it well. "Where you are depends on where your customers are," he said. "It does depend on your capacity and it is better to have one channel you do very well or not at all. It has to be interesting and relevant."
More high-speed broadband was called for at the Reading roadshow
(c) 2012 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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