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October 26, 2010

Canadian small businesses need, want the internet

But investment lagging in infrastructure, training

A new Angus Reid Public Opinion  poll shows very clearly the recognition by Canada's small and medium business sector (SMB) that the internet is a key element of business strategy. However, the study also suggests that the country's SMB sector may be reluctant to expand capacity to use the internet and to hire or train people with the appropriate skills.

The survey, commissioned by Intel   Canada, indicates that 90% of companies employing less than 100 people conduct at least some of their business with customers or suppliers over the internet (with 38% saying they do "all" or "most" of their business using the web). Furthermore, 2/3 (67%) of companies believe that universal access to the internet is "important" to their business.

"Clearly, we've passed the point where the internet is a luxury or an add-on to a business's operation," said   Doug Cooper, Country Manager, Intel   Canada. " Canada's small business segment wants, needs and uses the internet to advance their company goals. The SMB sector is an absolutely crucial economic driver whose increased internet adoption will, ultimately, benefit all Canadians."

"For my business to succeed, I need fast, reliable, uncapped internet capabilities to move huge amounts of data into the cloud and deliver our creative work to clients," said   Chandra Clarke, owner of Chatham, Ontario-based Scribendi Inc. "Having my business located in a small community, I often feel the effects of the lack of digital infrastructure in   Canada."

The survey also points out a possible disconnect between companies wanting to offer more internet-based services and investing in acquiring the skills to do so: More than  eight-in-ten (82%) company owners said that hiring for or training people to improve either digital skills or the ability to do business online was "not a priority".  At the same time, almost two thirds (63%) of all small and medium business owners surveyed believe they are currently spending "enough" on internet-based technology with just under two-in-five (19%) believing they should be spending more.

Interestingly, almost nine out of ten (89%) respondents were not aware of Canada's "moon shot" goal of ensuring that: "Anyone can do anything online in   Canada  by 2017." This moon shot goal arose from the Canada 3.0 Forum this past spring which brought together industry players and entrepreneurs, government, academics, creators and journalists to discuss the future of the digital economy in Canada.

"There is no question in our minds that reaching the goal of universal access will only be possible through the contribution of Canada's hundreds of thousands of small to medium sized businesses," Cooper added. "But the survey results tell us that industry and government together have to do a much better job of educating and promoting both the importance to this country of having a fully web-enabled populace, and working hard right now to put in place the education and training programs that are absolutely critical to making sure we have the skilled human resources we need to support the moon shot."

"Research like this demonstrates there is a great gap between small business perception and behaviour," said   Bernard Courtois, President and CEO of ITAC.  "This indicates a huge communications opportunity and important roles for both the government and the ICT industry to play in addressing it. The federal government's commitment to developing a comprehensive, national Digital Economy Strategy presents an excellent opportunity to get all this right.

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