By Daniel Hunter

For the first time, the leading organisations representing small firms and technology businesses have joined forces to identify just how small firms are using technology to grow and create jobs.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Intellect have produced a joint report which outlines how small firms have invested in technology and the benefits they have derived from doing so.

The report, the digital imperative, small businesses, technology and growth, surveyed 2,200 people and found that on average small firms have spent around £3,500 on technology in the last 12 months, proving that investment doesn't have to break the bank to see rewards.

The research shows that 85 per cent of small businesses identify investment in new technologies as a key driver for business growth. Around six in 10 (62%) said that it had a positive impact on how they communicate with existing customers and 53 per cent believe it has helped in targeting new customers.

However, many small firms see a gap in the market for support and guidance and for access to appropriate products for small businesses. A quarter of businesses say that greater skill levels for themselves and their staff would help them invest more in technology, and the report finds that additional technology skills can derive greater productivity from staff.

The FSB and Intellect want to see Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) use any funding to prioritise technology in plans for local growth. Each LEP should set out clear steps as to how they will support small businesses that want to upskill and use technology to grow their business.

The organisations also believe that a small business technology taskforce should be developed which provides events alongside private sector suppliers, to provide small firms with access to information and professional guidance to help optimise their use of and investment in technology.

Launching the report today in London, small businesses and experts from across the technology industry debated the findings and the positive steps that should be taken to allow small firms to utilise the potential of technology.

Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: "In order for small businesses to maximise the opportunities that technology presents, we needed to build the understanding and skills of both the management and the workforce. This report gives clear recommendations about how to do that. What is obvious is that the amount invested doesn't need to break the bank, and that something as simple as improving the back office technology can have a positive impact on operations.

"We need to see action from the Government and LEPs to help small firms take steps to invest and grow. This action must provide practical help to improve skills - while businesses say financial incentives would help, we believe that more micro measures would just add to the confusion for small firms. I am delighted that we are working with Intellect on such an important topic."

Julian David, Director General, Intellect said: "We live in an entrepreneurial age — with start ups and small businesses thriving against a difficult economic backdrop. This research clearly highlights the return on investing in technology for small businesses — both in terms of commercial growth but also in terms of driving innovation.

"It is essential that we support these small businesses through providing access to practical support and counsel around the use of technology in their organisations. Intellect is committed to working with the FSB and Government to take clear steps that will have real impact. What is needed is on the ground support and the opportunity for businesses to learn from their peers and wider industry experience.

"As an initial and immediate step, Intellect and the FSB are publishing best practice guidelines on approaching investment in technology for small businesses so that all companies will have access to clear and experienced advice. It is essential that we act when businesses are telling us that the right technology, used well by skilled employees delivers serious returns."

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