Memorandum by Alternative Thinking Ltd
1. These answers are intended to reflect the
thinking of the SME sector of the economy. Some scene setting
is in order.
2. The life of the owner-manager-worker
(OMW) of the SME sector is the business: everything is seconded
to it. In this sector the entrepreneurial urge is less about making
money than about being free to solve the everyday problems of
the business in one's own way. Most OMW's would be better off
financially as employees but are not so because addressing and
fixing these problems is not only their living but their life.
They are prone to be seen as idiosyncratic, even cantankerous
and are not readily herded into actions of any kind other than
by their own choice.
Answers to the questions of the Call for Evidence
Q1: What needs to be done to create confidence
and to stimulate e-commerce?
1.1 The OMW needs to know how much of his
irreplaceable time is going to be taken up getting to grips with
yet another initiative. Just how is it going to affect MY business?
Q2: Does the European Commission's draft Action
Plan "eEurope: An Information Society for All" offer
a realistic means of promoting e-commerce in the EU?
2.1 Few MDs from the SME sector will hear
of this other than indirectly and partially and fewer still are
likely to read it. However his/her school children will be using
the Internet as a matter of course and this will be seen, appreciated
and taken up at a rate depending on its fitness to the business
of the OMW. The owner of an SME is always on the look-out
for ways to improve business practices. The classical entrepreneurial/capitalist
path of spending a capital sum now to save running costs in the
long run holds for the SME sector but the steps and the risks
are no bigger than the OMW thinks the business can stand at the
2.2 Those owners of SMEs who do manage to
get themselves a copy of the document and set themselves to read
it might well find the volume of assertions too much for assimilation
in the time they can give to it.
2.3 The document reads as might a manual
for the motivating of sales staff. (It would be very interesting
to know who wrote it.) A detailed response to its many assertions
would take much timeit is unlikely to get this amount of
time from any sector other than that of the larger businesses
2.4 I find myself wary of an argument that
needs 16 sides of A4 to express itself and even warier when the
supporting evidence is presented largely as repeated assertions
and very little substance.
Q3: Will codes of conduct and co-regulation
provide sufficient protection? Is there a case for intervention
by national governments and the EU?
3.1 National concepts of Morality, Justice,
Rights and Duties of State and Citizen will be challenged. Lots
of work for academics and lawyerspaid for by my taxes!
Q4: Do the institutions of national governments,
on the one hand, and the European Commission, the Council of Ministers
and the European Parliament, on the other, function with sufficient
flexibility and coherence to promote the EU's objectives in the
field of e-commerce?
4.1 History tells me that flexibility and
coherence are not the hallmarks of any of these institutions.
Even national institutions only move quickly in times of threat
such as war, serious civil disorder and in response to major "Acts
of God". Unless the e-commerce idea can take on the
aspect of one of these, matters will move at their traditional
rates. This might not be a bad thing for all concerned.
Q5: Should existing EU institutional structures
be changed, or new ones created, to improve policy development
5.1 In view of the tone of urgency coming
from the paper the impression is that there is a hidden agenda
aimed at introducing a pan-EU regulatory layer which would assume
responsibilities currently in the hands of national bodies. Is
this a real intention?
Q6: How can structural change be brought about
fast enough to accommodate to the growth of e-commerce?
6.1 What is the basis for giving so much
importance to speed? What does fast mean? 10 years, 20? 50? Almost
anything can be accomplished in 50 years, after all it represents
two generations, but 10 covers two or three General Elections
any of which may bring quite different political ideas. What threat
is being perceived that needs the word "fast" to be
used so often that it almost becomes a principle of action? The
obvious answer is that the project is to be pushed through in
the period of one Administration so that the next is presented
with a fait accompli.
7.1 I do not doubt that e-commerce will
become ubiquitous but suggest that preparation for that would
be better achieved by rectifying its current problems than just
by adopting it out because it is fashionable. Internet technology
security is far from perfect: it would be foolish for the SME
sector to put scarce resources into e-business until this is resolved
and the necessary equipment comes into the price-range of the
7.2 What would give a fillip to entrepreneurial
ventures (see 2.1 above) would be a change in the thinking processes
of those who provide venture capital and, more importantly, of
those who lay taxes on the SME sector. Digital technology could
help to spread the consequences of changes in these areas but
cannot effect them.
24 February 2000