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ICT Adoption and SME Growth in New Zealand
                     Dr. Stuart Locke, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

         The impact of adopting information communication technology (ICT) upon the growth of small businesses
in New Zealand is reported in this paper. Government policy increasingly places a strong emphasis upon the
importance of ICT and the knowledge economy. Specific projects, undertaken by government in this regard, have
included remote rural broadband access developments, the single government portal and e-procurement initiatives.
A SME Quarterly Benchmarking Survey has been used to investigate various aspects of ICT adoption by SMEs
since 1999. This survey provided the research instrument for the present study. Three measures of growth are used
as the basis for investigating the impact that the level of ICT adoption has on a range of small businesses. The
analysis, using logit regression, probes the strength of the various factor relationships. Increased profitability, as a
proxy for growth, is most strongly correlated with ICT usage. Although a positive relationship is considered likely,
and detectable in the data gathered, it could not be separated from other influences. Factors such as the level of ICT
understanding of the owner/managers and increases in the number of employees are similarly positively correlated.
Accordingly, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain a causality linkage between increased ICT use and growth.
The extent to which SMEs have clear growth objectives, in terms of specific business performance measures,
appears to be very limited. Finally, it is suggested that the results obtained in the study provide useful insights
which have a direct bearing upon government policy being developed in agencies such as the Ministry of Economic
Development.

                                                 INTRODUCTION:

          New Zealand Government policy towards SMEs has, over the last three years, placed an increasing
emphasis upon the knowledge economy and information communication technology (ICT) as key drivers for
sustainable growth in this sector. These emerging policies and associated programmes are indicative of a new
approach when compared to the prior decade of significant instability of policy towards SMEs (Locke and
Scrimgeour 2000). While the core government agencies continue to be renamed, merged, unmerged and shuffled
there, nevertheless, appears to be a more consistent theme emerging. The research findings reported in this paper
concern the relationship between ICT and growth in small business. In practical terms the policy implications of
this study are to establish whether it is plausible to encourage small business growth through the implementation and
utilisation of ICT. In New Zealand a very large percentage of business is small. Approximately 45 of the employed
workforce is through small businesses with less than 20 employees, and 97% of private sector enterprises are small
businesses (Ministry of Economic Development, 2001).

                                      GROWTH IN SMALL BUSINESSES:

          An improvement in business performance is most likely to be experienced predominantly by those
enterprises that have specific a growth objective (Westhead & Cowling, 1995). Owner/managers with the objective
of independence generally experience significantly lower profits with no influence on sales levels, whereas those
wanting to achieve profitability do not necessarily experience an increase in profit levels (Westhead & Cowling,
1995). This suggests that to achieve a high performing small business sector, it is vital to encourage and support
small business owner/managers to adopt a growth objective (Westall & Cowling, 1999). However, once such a goal
is established, the specific factors that allow enterprises to achieve their growth objective are unclear (SEAANZ &
CPA Australia, 2001). Such uncertainty has prompted government and private sector initiatives examining the
factors having a potential influence on business performance and growth. In 2002 the Ministry of Economic
Development published a report detailing the results of their Business Practices and Performance Survey
(undertaken in the previous year), which identifies various factors that appear to be crucial for growth within a
sample of 3,378 NZ businesses. In particular, those that have comparably better practices in place and that have
most effectively linked them to operational outcomes are found most likely to report a higher return on investment
and growth in productivity, net cash flow, profitability and market share. Lindsay et al (2001) finds that within a
sample of 170 small NZ businesses, more than half have experienced growth. With New Zealanders being
enthusiastic early adopters of new technologies (Statistics NZ, 2002; Trade NZ, 2000), in 2001 NZ's expenditure on
ICT as a percentage of GDP was the highest in the world at 10.2 percent (Barton, 2002). This top ranking was
maintained throughout the 1990s, for instance with ICT spending making up 9 percent of GDP in 1992 and 8.7
percent in 1997 compared to 7.1 and 7.7 percent respectively in the USA (WITS A/IDC, 1998). Given the relatively


The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                             93
high use being made of ICT within NZ, it is likely that any relationship between ICT and business growth will be
particularly pronounced within the NZ economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit/Pyramid Research (EIU) study
(2001) into levels of E-preparedness ranked New Zealand 20th down from 16th in 2000 (www.ebusinessforum.com).
Government through its E–Commerce Action Team (ECAT) stresses that positive impacts from ICT across the
whole business sector are essential. Consistent with this view work began to ensure the SME sector, including the
micro businesses, should capture potential efficiency gains. Government continues to push ICT but there is an
increasing disquiet that business is not moving quickly enough to catch the knowledge wave. Science Minister, Hon
Peter Hodgson, addressing a pharmaceutical conference in March 2002, observed “I have watched us miss the ICT
bandwagon, if I can be blunt. And it’s not going to happen again.” (New Zealand Herald, p E3).

                             INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND BUSINESS:

          The end of the second world war marked the beginning of a post-industrial society (Bell, 1973) most
commonly referred to as the Information Age (Gaines, 1987). The main drivers of this era are two specific forms of
technology, namely Communication Technology (CT) and Information Technology (IT). More broadly,
communication technology consists of "the hardware equipment, organisational structures and social values by
which individuals collect, process, and exchange information with other individuals" (Rogers, 1986, p.2). In
contrast, IT largely refers to computer and electronics-based technology, generally encompassing the development,
installation, and implementation of computer systems and applications (Lexico, 2003). These two forms of
technology converged within the Information Era, creating a new type of technology known as Information
Communication Technology (ICT), which facilitates the exchange of information on a many-to-many basis
specifically through computer- and electronics-based communication systems. Rapid cycles of technological
innovation (Johnson et al, 1999), particularly with the advent of e-commerce, have seen ICT become recognised by
small business owner/managers as a vital element of business. Perhaps most significantly, the internet is praised as
"a unique and powerful form of ICT" which despite the collapse of the "dot-coms" is continuing to advance at an
ever-increasing pace and "is making electronic commerce attractive to even the smallest of businesses... which
(supposedly) stand to gain tremendous business advantages from implementing internet technology" (Berranger et
al, 2001, p.197). Similarly, despite the slow growth of mobile commerce, the importance of cellular phones as a
form of business ICT is becoming more pronounced. While the emergence of the internet, cellular phones and other
forms of ICT have significantly altered the way in which both small and larger businesses operate, divergent views
exist as to whether the impacts of such technological developments are indeed favourable or not. On one hand, ICT
may be considered "a tool to enhance life" given its desirable direct impacts. In particular, is claimed that ICT
improves productivity, enables business to be conducted outside of an office, and creates new industries. Postman
(1990) claims that ICT is merely an improved means to an unimproved end. The impact of ICT upon social fabric is
raised by Rogers (1996) noting it may change work roles, information overload, invasion of privacy, computer
crime, computer addiction and greater socio economic status inequality. The correlation between ICT and business
growth is noted for New Zealand business (Statistics New Zealand 2002). However, the direction of this effect is
unclear. A growing literature examines the link between growth and the convergence of communication and
computer technology, particularly within the US. However, the majority of research tends to have a broader interest
than the impact ICT has on the growth of individual businesses, generally focusing on the relationship between IT
and economic growth. The attitude of NZ small business to ICT and in particular the extent to which it offers
opportunities for growth is investigated by Locke and Cave (2002). They find that there are multiple barriers to the
adoption of ICT by small business and there aren’t obvious advantages in making changes. Two of the major
perceived barriers are lack of information and lack of understanding, on the part of business owners/managers, it
appears prudent to further investigate.

                                SME GROWTH AND ICT IN NEW ZEALAND:

         The primary concern of this research is to focus on establishing whether there is a clear relationship
between ICT use and the growth of a small business, the nature of this relationship, and how it is affected when
considering other factors found to have a significant impact upon the ICT-growth relationship. It appears reasonable
to expect business growth to be somewhat comparable to economic growth, in that they are both in some way
measures of the performance of firms. As a provisional hypothesis it is thought that although one relates to the firm
and the other to an aggregate any relationship established between IT and economic growth might be found in a
relationship between ICT and businesses.




The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                          94
METHOD:

          The SME survey has been conducted quarterly since 1999. The telephone interview consists of two parts.
First, there are questions relating to the level of operating activity and these are asked each quarter. In addition
several special interest questions are asked. These typically relate to the topical issues and the responses are
prepared for business professional magazines. Sample selection is generated from ‘yellow pages’ telephone listings.
The sample is programmed subject to the constraints of trying to get significant number of respondents in all regions
and across industries so that statistics will be meaningful. This means the sample is skewed away from the largest
population base and industry concentrations. The minimum sample size of 400 provides a level of margin of error of
less than 5%. The typical survey consists of 1,200 calls to allow for meaningful regional and industry comparisons
to be made. The September 2002 survey concentrated upon the relationship between SME growth and ICT usage.

                                                   FINDINGS:

         Overall the small businesses included in the sample have performed reasonably well, given more than half
experience growth in terms of each of the selected measures of business performance. As shown in Figure One, 65
percent have experienced growth in sales levels and 57 percent have achieved an increase in profitability over the
last twelve months. The least frequently realised improvement in performance was an increase in market share, with
54 percent of the sample having achieved growth in such terms.

          Figure One / Business Performance and Number of Staff (Size) in the Small Business Sample




          The size of a small business, or more specifically the number of staff employed, may also be considered
important from a macroeconomic perspective, given the reduction in unemployment created by the increased size of
a business. However, an increase in employment numbers is not particularly indicative of an improvement in the
performance of a business as more employees do not necessarily improve productivity or bring about favourable
result other than increased employment. They may contribute towards diseconomies of scale or other events that
suggest the performance of a business is weakening. The change in employee numbers in itself is a doubtful measure
of the successful performance for SMEs. Research has generally tended to extend the definition of growth beyond
increases in employee numbers, or the size of a business, focusing on performance. One measurement of growth
based on employment is 38% from Figure One. This is comparable to statistics relating to the population of small
NZ businesses, suggesting that as a result of the growth definition generally being overly broad, statistics and
findings relating to growth in NZ tend to be somewhat misleading. They provide an excessively pessimistic
indication of the actual growth of enterprises operating within the small business sector. Size does not appear to be
commonly associated with an improvement in performance among the sampled owner/managers. When their own
subjective measures of performance are taken into consideration, slightly over one-half (54 percent) claimed their
"overall" business performance improved over the previous 12 months. This is similar to the slight majority of
sample businesses experiencing growth in terms of sales levels, profitability and market share. Furthermore, as
illustrated in Figure Two, owner/managers are generally optimistic regarding the overall future performance of their
business, with nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of the sample indicating an increase in the expected overall




The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                          95
performance of their business in the next 12 months. More impressively this expectation of improved performance
is held by 89 percent of the three-quarters of the sample that claim there is potential for their business to grow.

 Figure Two / Overall Business Performance in the Small Business Sample Past and Predicted Future 12 Month
                                                  Period




         While growth occurs within the majority of the small business sample the issue to resolve is whether
growth is influenced by the use of ICT.

                                         INFLUENCES ON GROWTH:

         Factors that owner-managers claim to be the most significant in influencing whether their business has the
potential to grow are presented in Figure Three.

       Figure Three / Factors identified as Influencing Business Growth within the Small Business Sample




          The two most common unprompted factors, each identified by one-quarter of the sample as significant in
influencing growth, are the financial resources of an enterprise, the customer base and demand for the products of
the business. Employees are also a critical factor with both the skill and number of employees being cited as
contributing to the growth potential of a business by an approximate ten percent of the sample. A similar proportion
of owner/managers claim their own personal goals and drive played a major role in influencing the growth potential
of their business! As there is no suggestion that the use of ICT plays any kind of role in influencing or restricting
business growth within the sample, it is necessary to investigate implicit associations between ICT adoption and
business growth.

                                          THE GROWTH-ICT NEXUS:

         NZ's expenditure on IT having been the highest in the world, as a proportion of GDP, in the year prior to
this investigation, Figure Four suggests that ICT plays a considerable role in the operations of the small business



The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                          96
sample. Approximately 85 percent of small businesses use both internet and cellular phones. The intensity of use
tends to be high for both modes of ICT.
                             Figure Four / Levels of ICT Adoption within the Small Business Sample




                        Figure Five / ICT Adoption of Performance Subgroups within the Small Business




                    Sample

          When contrasting the use of ICT between performance subgroups, a considerable proportion of businesses
are making use of ICT regardless of whether they are experiencing growth, as shown in Figure Five. There is a
relatively higher rate of adoption amongst businesses that have grown. In particular, there is a considerably lower
rate of internet adoption amongst those businesses that do not achieve an improvement in profit levels. This
potentially suggests the internet may be used to reduce the costs faced by small businesses.

         A sizeable proportion of non-ICT adopters, as seen in Figure Six, have generally not experienced growth.
Specifically, only one-quarter see an improvement in profit levels. The majority of businesses that make some use
of either form of ICT manage to attain growth of some sort. The intensity of ICT use across performance
subgroups, or between businesses that are and are not growing is displayed in Table One. Nearly all (between 89
and 95 percent) of those businesses that are growing are making some use of each form of ICT. Almost three-
quarters of businesses that are not growing are making use of ICT. However, looking at the intensity of use, in
contrast with expectations, those businesses that experience an improvement in performance do not necessarily have
a greater tendency to make high use of ICT. The proportion of each subgroup that makes high use of ICT is
comparable. However, there is a slightly greater tendency for those businesses that have grown to make high use of
ICT.




The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                        97
Figure Six / Business Performance of ICT Subgroups within the Small Business Sample




Notes:
(1) Sales growth is defined as an increase in sales levels in the last 12 months.
(2) Profit growth is defined as an increase in profit levels in the last 12 months.
(3) Market share growth is defined as an increase in market share over the last 3 years.

                 Table One / Use of Selected ICT1,2 & Growth within the Small Business Sample for the Third Quarter of 2002




           (I) Proportions are of the sampled small New Zealand businesses in each category .
           (2) Businesses not covered in the overall survey population include those having more than 20 full-time
           equivalent employees (FfEs), and all businesses classified in the A, B, D, H, J, M, and N ANZSIC industries.
           (3) Those sampled small businesses with 0% of employees making some use of the selected ICT.
           (4) Those sampled small businesses with 1-10% of employees making some use of the selected ICT.
           (5) Those sampled small businesses with 11-30% of employees making some use of the selected ICT.
           (6) Those sampled small businesses with 31-60% of employees making some use of the selected ICT.
           (7) Those sampled small businesses with 61-100% of employees making some use of the selected ICT.

         For the sample businesses that experience an improvement in market share over the past three years, half
are making high use of cellular phones and 40 percent are making high use of the internet. This is not significantly
different to a slightly lower 42 and 36 percent respectively for businesses that are experiencing growth in market
share. A greater difference is found amongst the 65 percent of the sample that have experienced sales growth over
the prior 12 months. While approximately 50 percent are making high use of cellular phones a further 41 percent
having similarly high internet adoption levels. Only 41 percent of the businesses that have not seen an improvement



The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                                           98
in sales make high use of cellular phones, with 32 percent having high levels of internet adoption. This difference in
ICT intensity between the two groups hardly appears to be considerable as the tendency for a business to make
higher use of ICT does not increase markedly with business growth, except in the case of profit growth. For those
businesses that have experienced an increase in profit levels over the past 12 months 46 percent are making high use
of cellular phones and a further 48 percent are making high use of the internet. This comparable to the 45 percent of
those enterprises that are not experiencing growth in profits and are making similarly high use of cellular phones,
although only one-quarter are making high use of the internet. This suggests that although growth in profits may
require a business to make greater use of the internet, as the adoption of ICT is only slightly more pronounced
within businesses that have experienced growth, high ICT use is generally not confined to those businesses that
experienced growth.
        Table Two / Business Performance1, 2 and Levels of ICT Use within the Small Business Sample for the Third Quarter of 2002




          (1) Proportions are of the sampled small New Zealand businesses in each category.
          (2) Businesses not covered in the overall survey population include those having more than 20 full-time
          equivalent employees (FTEs), and all businesses classified in the A, B, 0, H, J, M, and N ANZSIC industries.
          (3) Sales growth is defined as an increase in sales levels in the last 12 months.
          (4) Profit growth is defined as an increase in profit levels in the last 12 months.
          (5) Market share growth is defined as an increase in market share over the last 3 years.

          The next step in the investigation is to contrast growth across small businesses with various levels of ICT adoption.
Only when growth is defined as an increase in profitability are the results in Table Two consistent with the expectation for the
occurrence of growth within the sample to increase with higher levels of ICT adoption. Although a similar relationship holds
between cellular phone use and sales growth (except surprisingly when cellular phones are used by more than 60 percent of
employees), higher levels of internet use are not met with an increase in the occurrence of sales or market share growth, nor do
higher levels of cellular phone adoption coincide with a greater occurrence of market share growth. Rather, the very low internet
adopters, with technology being used by a mere one to ten percent of employees, have the highest proportion of businesses (75
percent) experiencing sales and market share growth. A similar proportion of low cellular phone adopters are also achieving an
increase in market share. The univariate results presented in Table Three show that improvements in market share are not
significantly affected by cellular phone adoption, and sales levels similarly do not appear to be associated with internet adoption.
These findings do suggest that internet use significantly influences the likelihood of a business obtaining growth in profit and
market share. Similarly, cellular phone adoption improves the chances of an enterprise securing growth in sales and profits.

          In general, there is a positive association between growth and the adoption of the internet and cellular phones within the
small business sample. The relationship appears to depend upon the growth measure and form of ICT being considered. To
investigate whether any specific degree of implementation is more important for growth, the effect of ICT adoption on growth is
separated according to the degree of adoption as reported in Table Four. Such a dissection reveals that the likelihood of attaining
growth in profits increases as a greater proportion of employees make use of the internet. When the proportion of employees



The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                                             99
making use of the internet is between 11 and 30 percent, this results in a coefficient of 0.81, compared to 0.94 when 31 to 60
percent of employees are users and an even greater 1.33 when 61 to 100 percent of employees make use of the internet. Contrary
to expectations, a low level of internet use raises the probability of an enterprise experiencing an increase in market share,
whereas no specific degree of internet use plays a significant role in influencing the likelihood of a small business attaining an
increase in sales levels.

  Table Three / Summary of Results from Univariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Adoption of Selected ICT within the Small
                                                           Business Sample




(1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level.


 Table Four / Summary of Results from Univariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Degree of Adoption of Selected ICT within the
                                                        Small Business Sample




                      (1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level.

         Similarly, growth in profit appears to be influenced by a greater intensity of cellular phone adoption.
However, rather than the likelihood of attaining growth increasing somewhat linearly with higher levels of adoption,
as is suggested in cross-tabulation analysis, the greatest impact on growth is when 31 to 60 percent of employees
make use of the internet, with a coefficient of 1.12. In contrast, when adoption increases to 61 to 100 percent of
employees making use of cellular phones the coefficient drops to 0.71. A similar result holds for sales growth. It
appears that the level of ICT adoption is not directly related to the likelihood of achieving growth in market share.
Although the likelihood of attaining growth does not necessarily improve as increasingly higher use is made of ICT,
as would be expected in the case of a linear relationship, a higher rather than lower level of use does improve the
probability of growth in most instances. Such results suggest that adoption and the degree of ICT adoption are both
positively related to the growth of small businesses within the sample. It is more than likely some non ICT-related
factors are also impacting upon both ICT use and growth, and thus the apparent impact ICT adoption is having on
growth may be at least partially attributable to other underlying factors. Several potential factors are identified from
the cross-tabulation analysis. Those showing as important include the industry orientation, gender, size, change in
number of employees, and understanding of ICT by owner/managers. Table Seven presents the multivariate results
which suggest the significance of ICT adoption is lower.
          The majority of factors that appear to be influential in the ICT-growth relationship from the initial cross-tabulations are
now showing as largely insignificant. The influence of cellular phone adoption also becomes insignificant for all three growth
measures and internet adoption is only found to have a positive influence on profit growth. Interestingly, the level of
understanding possessed by owner/managers regarding ICT has a slightly lesser impact upon profit than the actual adoption of
either form of ICT has. This suggests that once ICT is adopted, how well it is implemented effectively influences the
performance of a business. This appears to rely on the education, experience and know- how of the owner/manager. Although
none of the selected factors appear to significantly influence market share, a seemingly more important factor than ICT
influencing the sales growth of a business is an increase in the number of employees or the size of the enterprise



The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                                                 100
Table Seven / Summary of Results from Multivariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Adoption of Selected ICT within the Small
                                                           Business Sample




(1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level.

Table Eight / Summary of Results from Multivariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Degree of Adoption of Selected ICT within the
                                                         Small Business Sample




(1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level.

           As shown in Table Eight, the most significant factors are the same as have been identified when looking at the adoption
of ICT rather than degree of ICT adoption. In contrast to univariate results, a higher level of cellular phone adoption is no longer
a significant impact on an enterprise's likelihood of achieving sales growth, nor does a lower level of internet adoption suggest a
greater chance of market share growth. Although an improvement in profits may come about as a result of cost reduction or
revenue generation, no link is found between ICT use and sales growth. This suggests it is reasonable to conclude that the
positive relationship between ICT use and profit growth indicates ICT provides an effective method of reducing the costs
involved in operating a small business.




The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                                             101
SUMMARY:
           Rather than there being a strong positive relationship similar to that which has been established between economic
growth and investment in IT, the results for growth in terms of market share and sales levels are not supportive of a strong
positive correlation for individual small businesses. However, the findings relating to growth in profit are largely in line with
expectations. This suggests that in order to promote growth in the profit levels of small NZ businesses, enterprises operating
within the small business sector should be encouraged to have a high extent of internet adoption and moderate levels of cellular
phone adoption. Yet if growth in terms of either an increase in market share or sales levels is desired instead, the adoption of ICT
and the level of implementation would be largely irrelevant. The positive association between growth in profits and the adoption
of cellular phones and the internet within this sample of small NZ businesses is relevant to the policy issues concerning how to
encourage entrepreneurship and small business growth. The type of growth a business is striving to achieve, and the type of
growth that policy makers want to encourage, are of particular importance. Whilst ICT does not appear to have been particularly
useful in boosting the market share and sales levels of a business, results indicate it has the potential to provide substantial cost-
reducing benefits to its users. Although sales are not necessarily affected, profits tend to improve when high use is made of the
internet and when moderate use is made of cellular phones.

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The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004                                                                                     102
Ict adoption and sme growth in new zealand

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Ict adoption and sme growth in new zealand

  • 1. ICT Adoption and SME Growth in New Zealand Dr. Stuart Locke, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand The impact of adopting information communication technology (ICT) upon the growth of small businesses in New Zealand is reported in this paper. Government policy increasingly places a strong emphasis upon the importance of ICT and the knowledge economy. Specific projects, undertaken by government in this regard, have included remote rural broadband access developments, the single government portal and e-procurement initiatives. A SME Quarterly Benchmarking Survey has been used to investigate various aspects of ICT adoption by SMEs since 1999. This survey provided the research instrument for the present study. Three measures of growth are used as the basis for investigating the impact that the level of ICT adoption has on a range of small businesses. The analysis, using logit regression, probes the strength of the various factor relationships. Increased profitability, as a proxy for growth, is most strongly correlated with ICT usage. Although a positive relationship is considered likely, and detectable in the data gathered, it could not be separated from other influences. Factors such as the level of ICT understanding of the owner/managers and increases in the number of employees are similarly positively correlated. Accordingly, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain a causality linkage between increased ICT use and growth. The extent to which SMEs have clear growth objectives, in terms of specific business performance measures, appears to be very limited. Finally, it is suggested that the results obtained in the study provide useful insights which have a direct bearing upon government policy being developed in agencies such as the Ministry of Economic Development. INTRODUCTION: New Zealand Government policy towards SMEs has, over the last three years, placed an increasing emphasis upon the knowledge economy and information communication technology (ICT) as key drivers for sustainable growth in this sector. These emerging policies and associated programmes are indicative of a new approach when compared to the prior decade of significant instability of policy towards SMEs (Locke and Scrimgeour 2000). While the core government agencies continue to be renamed, merged, unmerged and shuffled there, nevertheless, appears to be a more consistent theme emerging. The research findings reported in this paper concern the relationship between ICT and growth in small business. In practical terms the policy implications of this study are to establish whether it is plausible to encourage small business growth through the implementation and utilisation of ICT. In New Zealand a very large percentage of business is small. Approximately 45 of the employed workforce is through small businesses with less than 20 employees, and 97% of private sector enterprises are small businesses (Ministry of Economic Development, 2001). GROWTH IN SMALL BUSINESSES: An improvement in business performance is most likely to be experienced predominantly by those enterprises that have specific a growth objective (Westhead & Cowling, 1995). Owner/managers with the objective of independence generally experience significantly lower profits with no influence on sales levels, whereas those wanting to achieve profitability do not necessarily experience an increase in profit levels (Westhead & Cowling, 1995). This suggests that to achieve a high performing small business sector, it is vital to encourage and support small business owner/managers to adopt a growth objective (Westall & Cowling, 1999). However, once such a goal is established, the specific factors that allow enterprises to achieve their growth objective are unclear (SEAANZ & CPA Australia, 2001). Such uncertainty has prompted government and private sector initiatives examining the factors having a potential influence on business performance and growth. In 2002 the Ministry of Economic Development published a report detailing the results of their Business Practices and Performance Survey (undertaken in the previous year), which identifies various factors that appear to be crucial for growth within a sample of 3,378 NZ businesses. In particular, those that have comparably better practices in place and that have most effectively linked them to operational outcomes are found most likely to report a higher return on investment and growth in productivity, net cash flow, profitability and market share. Lindsay et al (2001) finds that within a sample of 170 small NZ businesses, more than half have experienced growth. With New Zealanders being enthusiastic early adopters of new technologies (Statistics NZ, 2002; Trade NZ, 2000), in 2001 NZ's expenditure on ICT as a percentage of GDP was the highest in the world at 10.2 percent (Barton, 2002). This top ranking was maintained throughout the 1990s, for instance with ICT spending making up 9 percent of GDP in 1992 and 8.7 percent in 1997 compared to 7.1 and 7.7 percent respectively in the USA (WITS A/IDC, 1998). Given the relatively The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 93
  • 2. high use being made of ICT within NZ, it is likely that any relationship between ICT and business growth will be particularly pronounced within the NZ economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit/Pyramid Research (EIU) study (2001) into levels of E-preparedness ranked New Zealand 20th down from 16th in 2000 (www.ebusinessforum.com). Government through its E–Commerce Action Team (ECAT) stresses that positive impacts from ICT across the whole business sector are essential. Consistent with this view work began to ensure the SME sector, including the micro businesses, should capture potential efficiency gains. Government continues to push ICT but there is an increasing disquiet that business is not moving quickly enough to catch the knowledge wave. Science Minister, Hon Peter Hodgson, addressing a pharmaceutical conference in March 2002, observed “I have watched us miss the ICT bandwagon, if I can be blunt. And it’s not going to happen again.” (New Zealand Herald, p E3). INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND BUSINESS: The end of the second world war marked the beginning of a post-industrial society (Bell, 1973) most commonly referred to as the Information Age (Gaines, 1987). The main drivers of this era are two specific forms of technology, namely Communication Technology (CT) and Information Technology (IT). More broadly, communication technology consists of "the hardware equipment, organisational structures and social values by which individuals collect, process, and exchange information with other individuals" (Rogers, 1986, p.2). In contrast, IT largely refers to computer and electronics-based technology, generally encompassing the development, installation, and implementation of computer systems and applications (Lexico, 2003). These two forms of technology converged within the Information Era, creating a new type of technology known as Information Communication Technology (ICT), which facilitates the exchange of information on a many-to-many basis specifically through computer- and electronics-based communication systems. Rapid cycles of technological innovation (Johnson et al, 1999), particularly with the advent of e-commerce, have seen ICT become recognised by small business owner/managers as a vital element of business. Perhaps most significantly, the internet is praised as "a unique and powerful form of ICT" which despite the collapse of the "dot-coms" is continuing to advance at an ever-increasing pace and "is making electronic commerce attractive to even the smallest of businesses... which (supposedly) stand to gain tremendous business advantages from implementing internet technology" (Berranger et al, 2001, p.197). Similarly, despite the slow growth of mobile commerce, the importance of cellular phones as a form of business ICT is becoming more pronounced. While the emergence of the internet, cellular phones and other forms of ICT have significantly altered the way in which both small and larger businesses operate, divergent views exist as to whether the impacts of such technological developments are indeed favourable or not. On one hand, ICT may be considered "a tool to enhance life" given its desirable direct impacts. In particular, is claimed that ICT improves productivity, enables business to be conducted outside of an office, and creates new industries. Postman (1990) claims that ICT is merely an improved means to an unimproved end. The impact of ICT upon social fabric is raised by Rogers (1996) noting it may change work roles, information overload, invasion of privacy, computer crime, computer addiction and greater socio economic status inequality. The correlation between ICT and business growth is noted for New Zealand business (Statistics New Zealand 2002). However, the direction of this effect is unclear. A growing literature examines the link between growth and the convergence of communication and computer technology, particularly within the US. However, the majority of research tends to have a broader interest than the impact ICT has on the growth of individual businesses, generally focusing on the relationship between IT and economic growth. The attitude of NZ small business to ICT and in particular the extent to which it offers opportunities for growth is investigated by Locke and Cave (2002). They find that there are multiple barriers to the adoption of ICT by small business and there aren’t obvious advantages in making changes. Two of the major perceived barriers are lack of information and lack of understanding, on the part of business owners/managers, it appears prudent to further investigate. SME GROWTH AND ICT IN NEW ZEALAND: The primary concern of this research is to focus on establishing whether there is a clear relationship between ICT use and the growth of a small business, the nature of this relationship, and how it is affected when considering other factors found to have a significant impact upon the ICT-growth relationship. It appears reasonable to expect business growth to be somewhat comparable to economic growth, in that they are both in some way measures of the performance of firms. As a provisional hypothesis it is thought that although one relates to the firm and the other to an aggregate any relationship established between IT and economic growth might be found in a relationship between ICT and businesses. The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 94
  • 3. METHOD: The SME survey has been conducted quarterly since 1999. The telephone interview consists of two parts. First, there are questions relating to the level of operating activity and these are asked each quarter. In addition several special interest questions are asked. These typically relate to the topical issues and the responses are prepared for business professional magazines. Sample selection is generated from ‘yellow pages’ telephone listings. The sample is programmed subject to the constraints of trying to get significant number of respondents in all regions and across industries so that statistics will be meaningful. This means the sample is skewed away from the largest population base and industry concentrations. The minimum sample size of 400 provides a level of margin of error of less than 5%. The typical survey consists of 1,200 calls to allow for meaningful regional and industry comparisons to be made. The September 2002 survey concentrated upon the relationship between SME growth and ICT usage. FINDINGS: Overall the small businesses included in the sample have performed reasonably well, given more than half experience growth in terms of each of the selected measures of business performance. As shown in Figure One, 65 percent have experienced growth in sales levels and 57 percent have achieved an increase in profitability over the last twelve months. The least frequently realised improvement in performance was an increase in market share, with 54 percent of the sample having achieved growth in such terms. Figure One / Business Performance and Number of Staff (Size) in the Small Business Sample The size of a small business, or more specifically the number of staff employed, may also be considered important from a macroeconomic perspective, given the reduction in unemployment created by the increased size of a business. However, an increase in employment numbers is not particularly indicative of an improvement in the performance of a business as more employees do not necessarily improve productivity or bring about favourable result other than increased employment. They may contribute towards diseconomies of scale or other events that suggest the performance of a business is weakening. The change in employee numbers in itself is a doubtful measure of the successful performance for SMEs. Research has generally tended to extend the definition of growth beyond increases in employee numbers, or the size of a business, focusing on performance. One measurement of growth based on employment is 38% from Figure One. This is comparable to statistics relating to the population of small NZ businesses, suggesting that as a result of the growth definition generally being overly broad, statistics and findings relating to growth in NZ tend to be somewhat misleading. They provide an excessively pessimistic indication of the actual growth of enterprises operating within the small business sector. Size does not appear to be commonly associated with an improvement in performance among the sampled owner/managers. When their own subjective measures of performance are taken into consideration, slightly over one-half (54 percent) claimed their "overall" business performance improved over the previous 12 months. This is similar to the slight majority of sample businesses experiencing growth in terms of sales levels, profitability and market share. Furthermore, as illustrated in Figure Two, owner/managers are generally optimistic regarding the overall future performance of their business, with nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of the sample indicating an increase in the expected overall The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 95
  • 4. performance of their business in the next 12 months. More impressively this expectation of improved performance is held by 89 percent of the three-quarters of the sample that claim there is potential for their business to grow. Figure Two / Overall Business Performance in the Small Business Sample Past and Predicted Future 12 Month Period While growth occurs within the majority of the small business sample the issue to resolve is whether growth is influenced by the use of ICT. INFLUENCES ON GROWTH: Factors that owner-managers claim to be the most significant in influencing whether their business has the potential to grow are presented in Figure Three. Figure Three / Factors identified as Influencing Business Growth within the Small Business Sample The two most common unprompted factors, each identified by one-quarter of the sample as significant in influencing growth, are the financial resources of an enterprise, the customer base and demand for the products of the business. Employees are also a critical factor with both the skill and number of employees being cited as contributing to the growth potential of a business by an approximate ten percent of the sample. A similar proportion of owner/managers claim their own personal goals and drive played a major role in influencing the growth potential of their business! As there is no suggestion that the use of ICT plays any kind of role in influencing or restricting business growth within the sample, it is necessary to investigate implicit associations between ICT adoption and business growth. THE GROWTH-ICT NEXUS: NZ's expenditure on IT having been the highest in the world, as a proportion of GDP, in the year prior to this investigation, Figure Four suggests that ICT plays a considerable role in the operations of the small business The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 96
  • 5. sample. Approximately 85 percent of small businesses use both internet and cellular phones. The intensity of use tends to be high for both modes of ICT. Figure Four / Levels of ICT Adoption within the Small Business Sample Figure Five / ICT Adoption of Performance Subgroups within the Small Business Sample When contrasting the use of ICT between performance subgroups, a considerable proportion of businesses are making use of ICT regardless of whether they are experiencing growth, as shown in Figure Five. There is a relatively higher rate of adoption amongst businesses that have grown. In particular, there is a considerably lower rate of internet adoption amongst those businesses that do not achieve an improvement in profit levels. This potentially suggests the internet may be used to reduce the costs faced by small businesses. A sizeable proportion of non-ICT adopters, as seen in Figure Six, have generally not experienced growth. Specifically, only one-quarter see an improvement in profit levels. The majority of businesses that make some use of either form of ICT manage to attain growth of some sort. The intensity of ICT use across performance subgroups, or between businesses that are and are not growing is displayed in Table One. Nearly all (between 89 and 95 percent) of those businesses that are growing are making some use of each form of ICT. Almost three- quarters of businesses that are not growing are making use of ICT. However, looking at the intensity of use, in contrast with expectations, those businesses that experience an improvement in performance do not necessarily have a greater tendency to make high use of ICT. The proportion of each subgroup that makes high use of ICT is comparable. However, there is a slightly greater tendency for those businesses that have grown to make high use of ICT. The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 97
  • 6. Figure Six / Business Performance of ICT Subgroups within the Small Business Sample Notes: (1) Sales growth is defined as an increase in sales levels in the last 12 months. (2) Profit growth is defined as an increase in profit levels in the last 12 months. (3) Market share growth is defined as an increase in market share over the last 3 years. Table One / Use of Selected ICT1,2 & Growth within the Small Business Sample for the Third Quarter of 2002 (I) Proportions are of the sampled small New Zealand businesses in each category . (2) Businesses not covered in the overall survey population include those having more than 20 full-time equivalent employees (FfEs), and all businesses classified in the A, B, D, H, J, M, and N ANZSIC industries. (3) Those sampled small businesses with 0% of employees making some use of the selected ICT. (4) Those sampled small businesses with 1-10% of employees making some use of the selected ICT. (5) Those sampled small businesses with 11-30% of employees making some use of the selected ICT. (6) Those sampled small businesses with 31-60% of employees making some use of the selected ICT. (7) Those sampled small businesses with 61-100% of employees making some use of the selected ICT. For the sample businesses that experience an improvement in market share over the past three years, half are making high use of cellular phones and 40 percent are making high use of the internet. This is not significantly different to a slightly lower 42 and 36 percent respectively for businesses that are experiencing growth in market share. A greater difference is found amongst the 65 percent of the sample that have experienced sales growth over the prior 12 months. While approximately 50 percent are making high use of cellular phones a further 41 percent having similarly high internet adoption levels. Only 41 percent of the businesses that have not seen an improvement The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 98
  • 7. in sales make high use of cellular phones, with 32 percent having high levels of internet adoption. This difference in ICT intensity between the two groups hardly appears to be considerable as the tendency for a business to make higher use of ICT does not increase markedly with business growth, except in the case of profit growth. For those businesses that have experienced an increase in profit levels over the past 12 months 46 percent are making high use of cellular phones and a further 48 percent are making high use of the internet. This comparable to the 45 percent of those enterprises that are not experiencing growth in profits and are making similarly high use of cellular phones, although only one-quarter are making high use of the internet. This suggests that although growth in profits may require a business to make greater use of the internet, as the adoption of ICT is only slightly more pronounced within businesses that have experienced growth, high ICT use is generally not confined to those businesses that experienced growth. Table Two / Business Performance1, 2 and Levels of ICT Use within the Small Business Sample for the Third Quarter of 2002 (1) Proportions are of the sampled small New Zealand businesses in each category. (2) Businesses not covered in the overall survey population include those having more than 20 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), and all businesses classified in the A, B, 0, H, J, M, and N ANZSIC industries. (3) Sales growth is defined as an increase in sales levels in the last 12 months. (4) Profit growth is defined as an increase in profit levels in the last 12 months. (5) Market share growth is defined as an increase in market share over the last 3 years. The next step in the investigation is to contrast growth across small businesses with various levels of ICT adoption. Only when growth is defined as an increase in profitability are the results in Table Two consistent with the expectation for the occurrence of growth within the sample to increase with higher levels of ICT adoption. Although a similar relationship holds between cellular phone use and sales growth (except surprisingly when cellular phones are used by more than 60 percent of employees), higher levels of internet use are not met with an increase in the occurrence of sales or market share growth, nor do higher levels of cellular phone adoption coincide with a greater occurrence of market share growth. Rather, the very low internet adopters, with technology being used by a mere one to ten percent of employees, have the highest proportion of businesses (75 percent) experiencing sales and market share growth. A similar proportion of low cellular phone adopters are also achieving an increase in market share. The univariate results presented in Table Three show that improvements in market share are not significantly affected by cellular phone adoption, and sales levels similarly do not appear to be associated with internet adoption. These findings do suggest that internet use significantly influences the likelihood of a business obtaining growth in profit and market share. Similarly, cellular phone adoption improves the chances of an enterprise securing growth in sales and profits. In general, there is a positive association between growth and the adoption of the internet and cellular phones within the small business sample. The relationship appears to depend upon the growth measure and form of ICT being considered. To investigate whether any specific degree of implementation is more important for growth, the effect of ICT adoption on growth is separated according to the degree of adoption as reported in Table Four. Such a dissection reveals that the likelihood of attaining growth in profits increases as a greater proportion of employees make use of the internet. When the proportion of employees The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 99
  • 8. making use of the internet is between 11 and 30 percent, this results in a coefficient of 0.81, compared to 0.94 when 31 to 60 percent of employees are users and an even greater 1.33 when 61 to 100 percent of employees make use of the internet. Contrary to expectations, a low level of internet use raises the probability of an enterprise experiencing an increase in market share, whereas no specific degree of internet use plays a significant role in influencing the likelihood of a small business attaining an increase in sales levels. Table Three / Summary of Results from Univariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Adoption of Selected ICT within the Small Business Sample (1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level. Table Four / Summary of Results from Univariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Degree of Adoption of Selected ICT within the Small Business Sample (1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level. Similarly, growth in profit appears to be influenced by a greater intensity of cellular phone adoption. However, rather than the likelihood of attaining growth increasing somewhat linearly with higher levels of adoption, as is suggested in cross-tabulation analysis, the greatest impact on growth is when 31 to 60 percent of employees make use of the internet, with a coefficient of 1.12. In contrast, when adoption increases to 61 to 100 percent of employees making use of cellular phones the coefficient drops to 0.71. A similar result holds for sales growth. It appears that the level of ICT adoption is not directly related to the likelihood of achieving growth in market share. Although the likelihood of attaining growth does not necessarily improve as increasingly higher use is made of ICT, as would be expected in the case of a linear relationship, a higher rather than lower level of use does improve the probability of growth in most instances. Such results suggest that adoption and the degree of ICT adoption are both positively related to the growth of small businesses within the sample. It is more than likely some non ICT-related factors are also impacting upon both ICT use and growth, and thus the apparent impact ICT adoption is having on growth may be at least partially attributable to other underlying factors. Several potential factors are identified from the cross-tabulation analysis. Those showing as important include the industry orientation, gender, size, change in number of employees, and understanding of ICT by owner/managers. Table Seven presents the multivariate results which suggest the significance of ICT adoption is lower. The majority of factors that appear to be influential in the ICT-growth relationship from the initial cross-tabulations are now showing as largely insignificant. The influence of cellular phone adoption also becomes insignificant for all three growth measures and internet adoption is only found to have a positive influence on profit growth. Interestingly, the level of understanding possessed by owner/managers regarding ICT has a slightly lesser impact upon profit than the actual adoption of either form of ICT has. This suggests that once ICT is adopted, how well it is implemented effectively influences the performance of a business. This appears to rely on the education, experience and know- how of the owner/manager. Although none of the selected factors appear to significantly influence market share, a seemingly more important factor than ICT influencing the sales growth of a business is an increase in the number of employees or the size of the enterprise The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 100
  • 9. Table Seven / Summary of Results from Multivariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Adoption of Selected ICT within the Small Business Sample (1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level. Table Eight / Summary of Results from Multivariate Probit Regressions of Growth Measures on Degree of Adoption of Selected ICT within the Small Business Sample (1) Note that a z-statistic with an absolute value of 1.96 or more indicates significance at the 95% level. As shown in Table Eight, the most significant factors are the same as have been identified when looking at the adoption of ICT rather than degree of ICT adoption. In contrast to univariate results, a higher level of cellular phone adoption is no longer a significant impact on an enterprise's likelihood of achieving sales growth, nor does a lower level of internet adoption suggest a greater chance of market share growth. Although an improvement in profits may come about as a result of cost reduction or revenue generation, no link is found between ICT use and sales growth. This suggests it is reasonable to conclude that the positive relationship between ICT use and profit growth indicates ICT provides an effective method of reducing the costs involved in operating a small business. The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge * March 2004 101
  • 10. SUMMARY: Rather than there being a strong positive relationship similar to that which has been established between economic growth and investment in IT, the results for growth in terms of market share and sales levels are not supportive of a strong positive correlation for individual small businesses. However, the findings relating to growth in profit are largely in line with expectations. This suggests that in order to promote growth in the profit levels of small NZ businesses, enterprises operating within the small business sector should be encouraged to have a high extent of internet adoption and moderate levels of cellular phone adoption. Yet if growth in terms of either an increase in market share or sales levels is desired instead, the adoption of ICT and the level of implementation would be largely irrelevant. The positive association between growth in profits and the adoption of cellular phones and the internet within this sample of small NZ businesses is relevant to the policy issues concerning how to encourage entrepreneurship and small business growth. The type of growth a business is striving to achieve, and the type of growth that policy makers want to encourage, are of particular importance. Whilst ICT does not appear to have been particularly useful in boosting the market share and sales levels of a business, results indicate it has the potential to provide substantial cost- reducing benefits to its users. Although sales are not necessarily affected, profits tend to improve when high use is made of the internet and when moderate use is made of cellular phones. REFERENCES: Back, D. (1978). The practicing accountant in Queensland as an adviser to small firms, Working Paper CR6, Department of Commerce, Townsville, Queensland: James Cook University. Barton, C. (2002). 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