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IBM, U.S. Chamber unveil tech survey, SOS program

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Small-business owners appreciate the value of technology, but when it comes to what technology to buy, where to purchase it and who to ask for help and advice, most express uncertainty and are reluctant to take risks.

This is one of the findings of a major new study of U.S. small business and technology unveiled by IBM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a June 2 news release.

Commissioned by IBM and the U.S. chamber, the survey of more than 1,000 companies was conducted by Yankelovich Partners Inc. In addition to looking at perceptions and use of technology, the survey examined the make-up of small business, its regional differences, its most active industries and more, the release stated.

One of the study's key findings is that while the majority of small-business owners appreciate technology and use it to some degree, most regard it cautiously and are often uncertain of what technology to buy, where to purchase it and who to turn to for help and advice.

This caution manifests itself in a hesitancy to be among the first to adopt new technology and in the preference to purchase it piecemeal and not as a complete integrated business system, the release said.

Nearly half of small businesses (46 percent) buy technology in individual pieces as needed, and not as a bundled system.

In response to the survey findings, IBM, the U.S. chamber and the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that the three organizations have joined to launch a comprehensive public-private sector initiative to promote new opportunities for small business through information technology.

Called the Small Office Solutions (SOS) Initiative, the program involves a sweeping five-part national assistance effort to educate small businesses on the benefits of technology.

"Small-business owners sent up an SOS when they told us they are often confused by technology," said John W. Thompson, general manager, IBM North America, in the release. "We want them to know we heard their message loud and clear. As a result, IBM, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration are putting in place a number of ways for them to get technology advice and direction from experts at no cost," Thompson said.

U.S. Chamber President and CEO

Thomas J. Donohue added, "America's future prosperity depends on both smaller companies and technology. We must link these two vital sectors in a strategic and productive partnership. That's what our joint initiative with SBA and IBM is all about."

A comprehensive national program, SOS offers the small-business owner several routes to reliable expert guidance on technology issues.

Free to small businesses, the initiative includes:

?"Small Business ThinkCenters," a pilot program that will result in fully staffed technology help centers at selected local chambers of commerce.

?A free "Small Business Toolkit" of useful information and resources.

?A new interactive web site in which small-business owners will be able to assess their technology needs.

?Toll-free help lines.

?Informational videos and more.

Under the SOS Initiative, IBM will provide technology-related services, solutions, product offerings and pertinent information for three of the existing SBA's Business Information Centers (Albany, N.Y.; El Paso, Texas; Spokane, Wash.), which are co-sponsored by the SBA and local chambers of commerce.

In addition, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce will be the first non-Business Information Center to participate. At these walk-in Small Business ThinkCenters, small-business owners will get hands-on experience with the Internet and the latest computing equipment, find answers to technical questions and get referrals to technology specialists, consultants and vendors.

More ThinkCenters are expected to be added as the program continues its national rollout.

Small businesses seeking help on technology issues can contact IBM via the Internet at or by calling 888-426-5800.

The U.S. Small Business Administration can be contacted at www/ or 800-827-5722.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce can be reached at or 800-835-4730.

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