Over the past decade the internet has evolved from a technical environment into a commercial marketplace. The impact on consumers and large enterprises has been significant, but what about the small and medium sized business? With few of the skills and resources of their larger counterparts, these organisations need to get the best value from the internet and the network-based services it enables, without risking day-to-day operations. Although employees will be increasingly aware of the options for connecting to the internet as consumers, this does not readily translate into the right knowledge for how to select the most appropriate alternatives from internet service providers for the business they work for.
- UK-based small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) have embraced the internet Widely accepted as a fundamental part of business IT, the internet has moved far from its academic routes. Around two thirds of SMBs have been online for over 5 years, and for more than half of these companies, this commercial use of the internet is part of a formal business strategy.
- New services and applications are playing a significant part At one time many SMBs' use of the internet was simply a web presence-an advertisement or company brochure-and a route to email. Now, over a third of SMBs are already selling online, over a quarter are using IP telephony, one in six have some form of network video and almost 40% use the network for remote backup/disaster recovery.
- Connection has become vital for many, with continuity levels an important issue While a quarter of companies could work for days with no internet connection, most companies require failures to be fixed inside a day. For one in four, time to fix is even tighter at less than an hour, and for some no break in service is acceptable. In such critical situations, a second redundant connection has to be worth considering.
- Quality of service is also an issue Most companies expect good service levels and look to providers with reliable reputations, but around one in four have noted connection performance dropping frequently or occasionally. This is more prevalent among those companies whose internet connection has often failed, indicating that a drop off in service level and connection failures go hand in hand.
- There is a simplistic view of the internet connectivity options available While most believe they understand the range of options from internet service providers (ISPs), only around a third understand the equivalent upload to download bandwidth advantage offered by symmetric (SDSL) over asymmetric (ADSL). A similar minority correctly identified the benefits of a low contention ratio. These will become important aspects in assuring service levels in the broad deployment of applications such as VoIP, remote backup and video conferencing.
- Despite these challenges, companies are not rapidly switching between providers Only around 10% are looking to change anytime soon, and of those who have most recently changed, they based their decision mainly on quality of service and price. What most look for in their ISP is not simply the best commercial terms, but solid reliability and technical skills. Most would also look first to their ISP for information and guidance on making choices about internet connections.
SMBs have greater expectations of their suppliers, as they will often lack either the knowledge or time and resources internally to deal with the complexities of products and services they increasingly depend upon. As they embrace the internet and rely upon it for increasingly sophisticated services, it will become more important to understand the different offers from providers, and look beyond price to added value and support. This also places an onus on the ISPs themselves to differentiate their connectivity options and services to demonstrate most clearly the benefits and business impact of any technical nuances in those underlying services and technologies used to deliver them.
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