A new BT Group company, Open Orchard, today launched a range of services offering SMEs (small and medium-size enterprises) access to the applications and management expertise normally reserved for large corporations.
"We want to deliver big business functionality to all small and medium-sized businesses," said Yvonne Thomas, chief executive of Open Orchard, who has been with BT for nine years and previously worked as director of BT's SME division.
At the top of the agenda is dealing with the ever-present problem of staff email and internet abuse within SMEs.
Open Orchard's year-long study revealed 62 percent of employers were happy to allow private access to emails and the internet, providing they did not contain pornographic or abusive content and did not detrimentally affect the employee's work.
But what stood out was that most small companies had no idea how to monitor employees and more importantly hadn't instigated a policy to cover internet use.
"It's very concerning that most SMEs don't have a legally robust email policy in place that could be used to effectively discipline staff," said Colin Barrow, head of enterprise group at Cranfield University School of Management.
"And although prosecution and disciplinary cases may be rare, the new breed of 'cyberloafer' is an expensive type of animal," said Barrow.
To help counter this issue Open Orchard will be selling Orchestria's new Ensure software, which is designed specifically for SMEs, with the option of extra advice, back up support and other management services.
The importance of an internet policy was stressed by Adam Edwards, partner at employment law firm, Cumberland Ellis Peirs.
"Just checking a system for viruses is considered monitoring under today's law, if a company doesn't have a policy in place it can't have communicated its policy to its employees and is therefore illegally monitoring use," he added.
Statistics from the Department of Trade and Industry indicate there is a total of 2.1 million people working in SMEs who regularly use email and the internet.
The company has also signed a deal with NetLedger for the exclusive UK license to offer its NetSuite and NetCRM products. NetSuite, an integrated application suite accessed via the web that companies can use to perform tasks including accounting, inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM) and running an online store. NetCRM offers only the CRM functionality.
"Marketing and sales are major issues among UK SMEs. It is difficult to deliver national or local class marketing if you don't have the systems and off the shelf it takes a lot of time to install," said Thomas. A typical UK SME has an accounting package in use, but no CRM or sales force automation software, she said.
NetLedger has worked to localise NetSuite, which was announced in the US earlier this month. The UK version supports the local tax system and "anglicised screens," to make it a "pure English version," said NetLedger President, Zach Nelson.
The UK version of NetCRM is due out in January, while NetSuite will follow in the second quarter of 2003. Pricing has yet to be announced.