Businesses are constantly being told they must wake up to internet technology and e-commerce or face being left behind by competitors. But it is quite another thing for firms to work out how the tools of e-commerce best suit them.
The small to medium-sized enterprises internet learning experience (Smile) was set up in March to help firms in the automotive and aerospace supply chain do just that.
Smile is a partnership between Ford, Marshall Aerospace, Cambridgeshire Tec and Essex Tec, and is managed by Anglia Polytechnic University. Since its launch, 40 small and medium-sized firms have signed up to the service. Its second seminar last week was attended by 40 companies.
The idea is that members can share best practice in technology, manufacturing, and supply standards such as QS9000.
Where members do not have the requisite knowledge to share, Smile arranges for experts to give advice over the internet or at seminars.
Simon Jones, Smile project manager, said smaller companies can be reluctant to accept new technology. `Many turn into nervous wrecks when this technology is mentioned. By gently introducing these ideas we can bring them along more effectively,’ he says. `E-commerce is not just for the likes of Ford or Marshall – it is for everyone.’
Smile loans laptop computers to companies and can even set up basic websites free of charge.
But, Jones stresses, the key element of the scheme is the advice member firms share. His aim is to add 80 new members to provide expertise in all areas. Then Smile will not have to bring in experts: the flow of knowledge around the network will do the job.
Jones says supply chain firms cannot afford to be left behind. `Small companies are always suspicious,’ he adds. `But Ford has said that anyone who is not trading using e-commerce by 2002 will not be trading with Ford.’
For every £1 members spend using Smile’s services, the scheme receives £1 in funding from the European Social Fund. The support lasts for the next 14 months but Jones says the project will continue long after this.
Smile’s website can be found at: www.smile.anglia.ac.uk