Generational Divide: Small Business Owners Differ on Attitudes Towards Technology in their Businesses: Ipsos Reid Poll for Hewlett Packard

From Level of Comfort With Technology to Importance of Wireless Devices, Opinions Vary Greatly Depending on Age of Entrepreneur

October 3, 2008 Toronto, ON – A new Ipsos Reid poll of small business owners in Canada, conducted on behalf of Hewlett Packard, has uncovered a generational divide that exists among small business owners and their attitudes towards technology in the workplace. From the types of technology they purchase, to the level of their comfort using various forms of technology, attitudes towards technology in their business vary greatly depending on the age of the entrepreneur.

Thinking about what types of office technology are critical to their business, Canadians entrepreneurs on the whole revealed their thoughts: Most (81%) say that fixed computer stations are critical (55% very/26% somewhat) in terms of their ability to conduct business, while an equal proportion (80%) says that printers and copiers are critical (47% very/33% somewhat). These are followed by multifunction devices, such as all-in-one printer, copiers, fax machines (61%, 30% very/31% somewhat), mobile computers (48%, 26% very/22% somewhat), handheld devices (30%, 13% very/17% somewhat), and finally smart phones (23%, 9% very/14% somewhat).

  • The opinions of entrepreneurs vary by age, however. For example, the data reveals that older entrepreneurs prefer more traditional devices such as fixed computers as opposed to laptops, with 84% of those between the ages of 43 and 61 saying that fixed computers are critical to their business, compared to just 65% of those under the age of 30 saying the same thing. On the other hand, 55% of those under 30 say that laptops are critical to their business, while just 42% of those aged 55+ agree with this position. A similar trend is noticed among other advanced devices such as handheld devices (36% of those 42 and under vs. 25% of those 62+) and smart phones (29% of those 30 and under vs. 21% of 43 to 61).
  • While younger entrepreneurs are more likely to say that more modern forms of technology are critical to their business, they’re only about as likely as their older counterparts to suggest that spending on these items is a priority. This is likely because younger SBOs haven’t been in business as long and therefore probably don’t have as large technology budgets as more well-established businesses would.

Overall, three quarters (75%) insist that spending money on desktop PCs is a priority (42% large/33% somewhat) for their business while 77% also says that spending on printers and copiers is a priority (37% large/40% somewhat). Spending on wireless internet is a priority (29% large/27% somewhat) for a majority (56%) of SBOs, while nearly one half (47%) says that spending on laptops is a priority (19% large/28% somewhat). Reflecting on their computer budget for this year, 45% say that they will spend mostly on desktops, while 13% will spend mostly on mobile devices. Another 15% say they split is relatively even, and only three in ten (27%) say they don’t have a computing budget specified in their books.

Two in ten (19%) report that spending on smart phones is a priority (6% large/13% somewhat) and a similar proportion says that spending on handheld computer devices is a priority (5% large/13% somewhat). Still, only three in ten ‘agree’ (4% strongly/23% somewhat) that their company ‘doesn’t spend enough money on office technology’. Three quarters (72%) ‘disagree’ (24% strongly/48% somewhat) with this sentiment.

Technology in the Workplace�

All in all, most SBOs are ‘comfortable using technology in their work’, with 94% agreeing (47% strongly/47% somewhat) that this is the case. However, examining the intensity with which SBOs agreed with this statement highlights an interesting trend:

  • Those under the age of 30 are most likely (57%) to ‘strongly agree’, while those aged 30 to 42 (55%), 43 to 61 (45%) and 62+ (41%) are less likely to agree with this intensity.

Almost all SBOs, regardless of their age, say that they are ‘confident’ (63% very/34% somewhat) that they are ‘using the right computer (i.e. desktop, laptop, workstation, etc.) for their business’.

Small business owners are similarly unified on these points: three quarters (74%) of SBOs ‘agree’ (23% strongly/50% somewhat) that ‘office technology has made people more productive’ and six in ten (60%) ‘agree’ (16% strongly/44% somewhat) that ‘office technology has decreased their workload’.

Purchasing Habits…

Thinking about how they typically make technology purchasing decisions, one in three (33%) say they typically do so by conducting internet research or reading online reviews, while two in ten (18%) simply look around for the best price. Others browse retail stores (16%) or have technology partners they work with to address their need (13%). One in ten (9%) say they talk to a friend to get advice, or choose some other approach (10%). Only 1% make decisions on impulse.

  • Interestingly, it is those aged 30-42 (41%) who are most likely to conduct research on the internet and reading online reviews. Their younger colleagues (34%), those who are between the ages of 43 and 61 (31%), and those who are 62+ (33%) are less likely to use technology in this way when making purchasing decisions.

When purchasing technology, these are the things that SBOs say are important features in making their decisions on which product to buy: speed (94%, 57% very/37% somewhat), security features (88%, 49% very/38% somewhat) � likely a result of the fact that 77% of SBOs are ‘concerned’ with information security and privacy for their business�, energy efficiency (75%, 25% very/50% somewhat), footprint or size of technology (69%, 20% very/50% somewhat), brand (60%, 13% very/47% somewhat), and finally mobility features (56%, 19% very/38% somewhat).

  • Younger entrepreneurs (75%) are more likely than those who are 30-42 (72%), or 42+ (68%) to say that the technology’s footprint is an important consideration when buying technological products.
  • Interestingly, brand is more important to those aged 62+ than it is to those aged 43-61 (60%), 30-42 (57%) or under 30 (55%).
  • Mobility features are more important to younger entrepreneurs (67%) when compared to those aged 30-42 (60%), 43-61 (54%) and 62+ (55%).

And once they’ve purchased that technology, figuring out how to use it becomes the name of the game. One in three (34%) say they just ‘figure it out by themselves’ by playing with the technology, while some have a more refined approach, like reading the manual (30%), asking someone like a friend or relative for help (20%), reading information from a vendor’s website (7%), talking to a retailer (5%), or talking to a computer reseller (5%).

  • Humorously, younger entrepreneurs under the age of 30 are most likely to say they just try to figure it out themselves (46%), followed by those aged 30-42 (44%), 43-61 (32%) and 62+ (28%).
  • Older SBOs are much more likely to read the manual, with 34% of those aged 62+, 29% of those aged 30 to 61 and 19% of those under the age of 30 saying they typically read the manual to figure out how their new technology works.

Only a minority (44%) of SBOs believes that technology takes the human element out of work. However, a majority (54%) appears to like a more personal touch, agreeing (15% strongly/40% somewhat) that they would rather get ‘information from a printed page rather than a computer/PDA screen’. This proportion goes up to 59% among those aged 62+.

Techno Speak�

Even with most small-business owners sampled indicating that they operate their office out of their home (77%) as opposed to a rented office space (12%) or some other location (6%), it appears that SBOs are using technology in a variety of ways to grow their business. A majority (64%) says that they are ‘using the internet to research new products before making a purchase’, and that they use the internet to ‘keep up on current trends and events’ that affect their company (58%). One in three (31%) say they have an ‘external website which highlights information’ about their company and offerings, while 13% of small business owners say they engage in e-commerce over the net, and 8% use it in some other way. Only 13% of SBOs say that the internet doesn’t play a role in their business.

  • Younger SBOs are more likely than their older counterparts to be using the internet to market and sell their products and services. For example, 39% of those aged 30-42 say they use the internet to find online marketing tools that help them develop their own marketing materials. This proportion goes down to 25% among those over the age of 61. Those under the age of 30 are also more likely (16%) than those over the age of 62+ to say they sell their products or service online.

Focusing specifically on printers and some phrases relating to what they bring to their business, SBOs had this to offer in terms of which statements most closely reflect their point of view: 62% say that having their own printer allows them the flexibility to print what they need when they need it. Others (11%) suggest that having their own printer for their business helps them develop materials that create a professional impression for their customers, clients and business partners. One in ten (9%) say having their own printer allows them to control the quality of documents they need to print, and an equal proportion (9%) says it’s simply more cost-effective. Just 3% says it’s not essential for them to have their own printer because it’s easier to outsource their work, and only 5% says it’s not important for them to have the ability to print.

Thinking about why they might use a printer, four in ten (42%) say it’s because they have to store and maintain hard copies of reports and documents for regulatory reasons. Other reasons include because their customers and partners prefer to receive hard copies of materials (37%) from them, that they print materials as a way to share information with their colleagues, employees and customers (34%), and that they print their documents because they prefer to review paper copies (25%). Fewer than two in ten (16%) say they don’t tend to print much for their business, and just 2% say they don’t print because they prefer to review materials online and work online.

Assessing their printing habits, these are the types of things that SBOs say they’re printing:

Articles/Reports: 4% a few times a day, 6% about once a day, 19% several times a week, 24% once a month, 32% rarely, 15% never

Marketing Collateral: 2% a few times a day, 3% about once a day, 8% several times a week, 13% once a month, 39% rarely, 35% never

Emails: 13% a few times a day, 8% about once a day 22% several times a week, 14% once a month, 31% rarely, 11% never

Presentations: 3% a few times a day, 3% about once a day, 11% several times a week, 20% once a month, 37% rarely, 26% never

Information from Websites: 5% a few times a day, 7% about once a day, 23% several times a week, 23% once a month, 30% rarely, 12% never

Invoices: 23% a few times a day, 8% about once a day, 32% several times a week, 26% once a month, 3% rarely, 8% never

Other/Miscellaneous: 19% a few times a day, 10% about once a day, 16% several times a week, 23% once a month, 20% rarely, 12% never

These are the findings of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of Hewlett Packard from Sep 3 to Sep 10, 2008. This online survey of 1000 Canadian small business owners and operators was conducted via the Ipsos I-Say Online Panel, Ipsos Reid’s national online panel. The results are based on a sample where quota sampling and weighting are employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population according to Census data. Quota samples with weighting from the Ipsos online panel provide results that are intended to approximate a probability sample. An unweighted probability sample of this size, with a 100% response rate, would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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