An e-literate workforce is key.

There can be no denying e-commerce is now an integral part of any successful business. This may be most apparent to accountants, who play such a pivotal role in industry.

E-commerce provides businesses with the opportunity to compete internationally, increase their customer base and fine-tune internal operations.

The good news is that the UK has 1.7m small and medium-sized enterprises online, according to top-line figures from the DTI’s forthcoming international benchmarking study. This exceeds the government’s target of getting 1.5 million businesses online by 2002 by two years.

While this is encouraging, there is a lot of work to do if we are to attain our goal of making the UK a world leader in e-commerce. That is why Tony Blair and e-minister Patricia Hewitt, launched UK online this week. This is a nationwide partnership between government and industry, the voluntary sector, trade unions and consumer groups to get people, business and government online.

To support business, a further #15m of funding has been made available for UK online for business, previously the Information Society Initiative.

The money will be used to expand UK online for business and provide a further 100 advisers. The programme is being integrated into the Business Link network in England and its equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, providing independent, jargon-free advice to small companies, helping them find the right commercial solutions through e-commerce.

If we are to lead in e-commerce, we must have an e-literate workforce.

www.ukonline. will be a new information portal, providing a single online point of entry to government information and services. There will be 700 UK online centres by March 2002, aimed at the most disadvantaged communities, providing people with access to new technologies and helping them to develop the skills to use them.

This is an exciting time for UK businesses and we need to raise ourselves to the challenge of maximising opportunities technology can bring if we are to compete in the global economy.

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