Computer systems have become ubiquitous. A firm understanding of the technology, as well as the opportunity it creates, is almost essential for the successful running of a business. It is now as important as the ability to prepare a business plan or deal with the VAT office. As recently as the late 1980s, computers were used only for simple business work – preparing letters, helping with accounts, invoicing, and sometimes creating promotional materials.
While they still perform these functions, they also offer unprepended challenges and opportunities, especially for small businesses. In terms of opportunities, the most exciting development for business is the arrival of e-commerce– electronic trading on the Internet. It is now possible for small companies to trade successfully in markets that were previously available only to large multinationals.
E-commerce offers the possibility of a company that runs an almost completely computerized business, trading at all hours of the day or night, 365 days a year, with minimal human intervention. The challenges come from the technology itself, which remains poorly designed and unreliable on more occasions that it should. Users are often forced to find ways around these limitations, and can waste time with poorly designed products that could easily be improved. A good example of this is the year 2000 (Y2K) problem, or millennium bug.
Finding a way to exploit the opportunities fully and avoid the pitfalls of technology requires a ready source of explanation and information. Sources of information are not as plentiful as they might be. Consultants are expensive, and many computer magazines seem obsessed with technology for its own sake, and unaware of the practical implications for business users. Computer dealers are often more interested in making a sale than explaining the technology that is most suitable for their customers' needs. This can result in, for example, the purchase of a new piece of software that simply will not work on an older machine.