e-business – UK leads e-biz race.

UK business is adopting e-commerce at the same pace as the USA and Canada, with take-up quickest of all in Northern Ireland, according to new government research.

A new survey has revealed that 27% of UK business is trading online, putting the UK ahead of Germany and Sweden and on a par with the USA and Canada.

This year’s figures for companies online have reached 81%, up from 63% in 1999. The Department of Trade and Industry’s annual report distinguishes businesses ‘trading online’ from those ‘being online’. The DTI definition of ‘online’ is when a business uses external e-mail frequently, has a website or uses Electronic Date Interchange, known as EDI.

Findings show that 1.7 million small and medium-sized companies are now online, up from 600,000 in 1999 and surpassing the government target of getting 1.5 million online by 2002. Those trading online account for less than a third.

The regions are also embracing e-commerce, according to the survey. Findings showed that about 75% of businesses are online in almost all the nation’s regions. Northern Ireland saw the highest growth rate for companies online, up 32% from 43% last year.

Patricia Hewitt, e-commerce minister, said: ‘This year’s report shows business across the UK has embraced information and communication technologies and is seizing the opportunities e-commerce presents.

‘We must continue to build on this and work towards our target of getting one million SMEs trading online. The challenge for business now is not simply to get connected but to succeed in the online world using the new e-business practices.’

The news contrasts with two recent reports into the state of e-commerce in the UK. In a study by accountancy firm Grant Thornton the majority of UK SMEs were found to be ‘failing to embrace technological advances’.

And in a report by incubator Xworks, UK small businesses were found to have little idea about the internet.

The report comes at a crucial moment for the government as it steps up its search for a replacement for Alex Allan, the country’s first e-envoy. Chancellor Gordon Brown also pledged to use more public money to increase internet take-up. He said the government would invest #1.7bn in opening up web access to deprived communities.

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