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One in four smaller businesses in UK regard the Internet as a key element in their business strategy, according to research commissioned by Cisco Systems, which brands less enthusiastic firms as 'laggards'.

According to a survey carried out by IDC, 'Fastrackers', or firms that make more use of the Internet, are experiencing increases in revenues of nearly 75 per cent on average, and reduced costs by 50 per cent as a direct result of their use of Net technologies.

"The findings of the survey revealed that 'Fastracker' businesses look set to maintain their competitive advantage as their commitment to Internet technologies continues and their spend on Internet technologies increases year on year," Cisco chirps in its press release.

Roughly translated Cisco is saying that unless small firms make more use of the Internet, involving the purchase of shed loads of its routers and switches, they're liable to go out of business in today's tough economic climate.

The survey side steps the awkward fact that numerous dot com firms, which after all were THE biggest enthusiasts for Internet technology, have gone titsup.com.

So what of these laggards? Cisco, which let's not forget is trying to make inroads into the small business market, historically controlled by 3Com, is keen to rope them into the ecommerce stable as well. The IDC/Cisco survey suggests only concerns about Internet security and the availability of broadband Internet access are holding small back from seriously committing to ecommerce.

Despite the dot com slump, one in six of last years 'laggards' have earmarked a large chunk of their IT spend on ebusiness projects.

Only at this point in Cisco's survey is the very important point that technology spending should be aligned with business goals brought up, and this is something we reckon should been given far greater emphasis.

In previous articles we've criticised Cisco's lack of interest in communicating with anyone, most especially the press, but there are some signs in its release that its improving in this department.

As an example of a 'Fastracker' firm Cisco manages to cite Ben Evans, an electrical retailer with 30 employees based in West Wales, an area which has been hit hard by the UK's Foot and Mouth outbreak. Since Ben Evans set up their web presence, the company has experienced an increase in turnover of between 60 and 70 per cent compared with last year - despite the Foot and Mouth crisis severely impacting their offline business. The firm is also less dependent on holiday trade.

An interesting story but to put things in perspective the Cisco/IDC survey found that even among smaller businesses committed to ecommerce (these 'Fastrackers' again), sales online are only expected to make up 6.5 per cent of their revenues this year. These figures are expected to increase massively over the next five years but are worth bearing in mind so that people set realistic business goals for their ecommerce projects.

The survey's findings were drawn from the response of 3,720 European firms with 20 and 499 employees drawn from IDC's wider analysis of Internet adoption throughout Europe. ®

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