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Small firms must be helped online, Parliament says

It's up to the government to lead the way - gawd help us all

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Ditch the jargon and cut costs, that was the message from yesterday's Parliamentary IT Committee (Pitcom) committee meeting on ecommerce and small businesses. The meeting, entitled "The Quick and the Dead, Ecommerce and Small Firms", was held between members of Pitcom and the IT industry, looking at how to encourage small businesses to go online. Andrew Boswell, ICL chief technology officer, said the government must keep the Internet message simple and relevant. "The language of the Information Age can be very off-putting to people who can't identify with it," he said. Boswell also said early adopters needed to be encouraged. [Isn't 'early adopter' a bit jargony? Ed] He asked for the introduction of a Queen's Award for Ecommerce to complement the existing Electronic Commerce Awards, started by the DTI this year. Private sector advisory groups, such as small business advisors in banks, must also encourage small businesses to get online, he said. "These must be trained and activated as evangelists for electronic commerce." The other speaker at the meeting, held in the Houses of Parliament, was head of Sage's software division, Mark Searles. The first hurdle was getting small companies to understand exactly what ecommerce was, he stressed. They should be sign-posted to free Internet access, and educated on the importance of ecommerce to their business, he said. "It needs to be easy and cheap to get online," said Searles. "The barriers have to be taken away, and the small business mindset changed. We need to give ongoing support to small businesses and remove the fear factor." But difficulties still lay in government itself, the committee said. The ecommerce idea needed to be sold to the rest of government and the public sector before real progress could be made. MPs needed to be persuaded to use email, official forms needed to be downloadable from the Web, and the government should become a cyber role model. ®

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