New Study Finds Small Businesses Need IT Hand-holding

Small companies in the United States perceive the strategic value of technology, but sorely lack direction in choosing and deploying it, according to a study released yesterday by IBM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Joined by the federal Small Business Administration, the groups announced a new initiative, dubbed "Small Office Solutions," or SOS, to provide the education and hand-holding small businesses need.

The nationwide survey of 1,010 firms with a PC and fewer than 100 employees, carried out by Norwalk, Conn.-based Yankelovich Partners, found that 82 percent see choosing the right technology as "critical to their success." Some 80 percent of firms surveyed consider keeping up with changes in business technology as a somewhat or very important issue--second only to keeping up with changes in their own industry, and more important than issues like availability of financing or competition from other businesses.

At the same time, small businesses surveyed appear wary and uncertain when it comes to using technology: Sixty-one percent said they wait for a technology to become proven and established before buying a new product; nearly half (46 percent) say they tend to buy technology in individual pieces rather than bundles, and 44 percent admit that their primary technology decision-maker is either a beginner or only somewhat experienced. The bulk of small businesses agree they would benefit from assistance in areas such as using technology more efficiently and choosing the right technologies. "They're almost paralyzed, they don't know what to do," said Arthur White, vice chairman of Yankelovich Partners, at the announcement. "All of these are cries for help."

To answer that cry--and, of course, to develop the small business market for IT products--IBM and the SBA, a federal agency that provides loans and other assistance to small business, will fund the SOS program's "ThinkCenters": free walk-in technology consulting offices run out of local SBA offices or chambers of commerce. "If we can deliver information to small businesses, they will expand the market for IT in the United States," said John Thompson, gm for IBM North America out of Armonk, N.Y., adding that demand for technology among small businesses is growing at nearly twice the rate if the rest of the market. It's only appropriate--not philanthropic--that we look at this as an enormous opportunity."

A&L;, Microsoft Tout Liquid Motion on the Web

Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, launches a campaign for Microsoft's Liquid Motion today with a series of interactive animated web banners designed to highlight the advantages of Liquid Motion over Java. Captured in the banners are scenarios of a chicken crossing a road, a fly being swatted, car chases and a game of pool.

Liquid Motion (version 1.0), a web animation tool that lets users create and publish web animation via point and click, is being targeted both to novice users and web professionals, says Glen Sheehan, A&L's associate creative director. The campaign hopes to let the product sell itself. "Potential users can immediately recognize what Liquid Motion has to offer," Sheehan says. "The Liquid Motion banners are a great example of what we call 'compelling interaction,' which means they invite participation in the communication."

A&L also believes the technology will help expand the realm of Internet advertising. "This opens up [possibilities] on the web," Sheehan says. "We've seen use of Java and Shockwave, but things are changing rapidly and now we have another tool available. That gives us more opportunities as advertisers." The initial creative executions, which include "Pool Table," "Fly," "Car" and "Chicken," each have the tagline, "Easy Animation for Every Web," and a call to download a free trial of Liquid Motion. Microsoft's Desktop Applications Division initially approached A&L to build two banner ads. A&L created five and sold Microsoft on four of them.
The first phase of the online campaign ends in August. The media buy includes AudioNet, Builder.com, CNet, Gamecenter, ProjectCool, Web Review and Warner Brothers. Some of the Liquid Motion banner ads cost more to place than typical banner ads, Sheehan notes, because of the nature of the animation and programming behind it. "This is a learning process on both sides," he adds. "We're showing new types of advertising they can put on the sites."

Hoffman Jacks in From Singapore
Here's the first update from the road. As we discussed, I'll shoot updates to you on your Mondays and Wednesdays while I'm on the road. As far as mechanics, I'm going to provide "snapshots" on different topics taking the attitude that, per your request, everything (anecdotes, government macro trends, IT trade community, etc.) is fair game. I figured I'd provide 4-6 items per submission, leaving you room to axe some. ... keeping the ones you deem most interesting.