THE SUPERHIGHWAY

In a 1994 IBM survey of the Information Highway, 514 telephone interviews with small business executives in companies with $5 million - $99 million in revenues were conducted. Businesses in over 150 specific SIC codes within 4 broad categories were sampled: these included Wholesale/Distribution (37%), Health Services (11%), Finance (8%) and/Distribution (37%), Health Services (11%), Finance (8%) and Manufacturing/Construction (44%). Half (50%) of the companies had revenues between $5 - $10 million, while 27% had revenues between $11 -$25 million and 24% had revenues between $26 - $99 million.

Thirty-seven percent (37 %) of these companies were located in the Midwest, while 33% were located in the South. Two in 10 (22%) were located in the Northeast, while 9% were located in the West.

Approximately two in 10 (22%) companies have been in business for 1 - 15 years, while a similar number, 20%, have been in business for 16- 25 years. The majority (55%) have been in business for 26 years or more. One quarter (25%) have between 1 - 50 employees, while 20% have between 51-100 employees. Forty-two percent (42%) of these businesses have over 100 employees. The majority (72%) of these companies are privately-held (72%), while 26% were public companies.

Seven in 10 (70%) of business executives were male, while the remaining 30% were female. Titles range from President/Owner/Senior Manager (35%) to Vice President/Manager (25%) to MIS or Administrative manager (38%). Sixty-nine percent (69%) of these executives were between the ages of 18 and 45, while 22% were over the age of 45. Interviewing was conducted January 10-21, 1994. Data were weighted by specific SIC code and revenue size to accurately reflect their real proportions in the universe represented by these companies. The findings have a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points on the totals.

According to this survey, nearly half of small business executives have heard of the Information Highway. Just under 48% of small business executives say they have heard the phrase "Information Highway." The majority (70%) report they know "a little" about it, while 23% say they know a "fair" amount and 3% say they know a "lot" about the Information Highway.

Male executives (60%) the more likely than female executives (20%) to say they have heard of the Information Highway.

Companies in Wholesale/Distribution (53%) and Manufacturing/Construction (47%) are more likely to say they have heard of the Information Highway.

Three-quarters (74%) of all executives view the Information Highway as a potential "asset" to their business, while only 1% perceive it to be a "threat". Interestingly, 25% "don't know" whether it would be an asset or a threat to their business interests.

Respondents in the Midwest (65%) are least likely to view the Information Highway as an asset, compared to this in the West (84%), South (79%) and Northeast (74%).

In their own words, those who view the Highway as an asset are most likely to say it "allows them greater access to information"(48%). Among those who don't know whether the Information Highway is an asset or a threat, the plurality (38%) say "it's not a threat, but I have no use for it."

When asked to describe Information Highway in their own words, executives are most likely to say it "gives end user access to a variety of information and services" (22%), "it's a large network/system of networks" (16%), "it's system to connect computers/being able to reach any computer from my own" (13%) and "it is multi-media/integrates various media" (11%). However, 20% report they "don't know" or "can't describe" the Highway.

The majority of executives believe the Information Highway will first arrive through a "combination" (58%) of cable TV, phone companies and cumputers. However, two in ten (21%) believe it will first arrive through "phone companies" only, while 8% say it will arrive via "cable TV" and 6% say it will arrive through "computer companies." There is an overall perception that most services offered on the Information Highway will be very or somewhat useful to executives. In particular, these include the "ability to place or take business orders" (81%), "tele/video conferencing" (78%), the ability to "check market prices or the availability of raw materials" (77%), and the ability to ascertain cash flow information" (75%).

Other Information Highway services are also perceived to be useful. These include "the ability to design and send manufacturing, design, or other specs to staff, vendors and customers (73%), "access to immediate inventory management" (72%), "ability to make competitive bids" (71%), the "ability to conduct banking and stock market transactions"(65%), the "ability to pay taxes or receive refunds via computer" (63%), and "access to image technology" (61%). Majorities also say "access to government records" (53%) would be useful. Just under half, 47%, say the ability to "vote or take part in public opinion polls" would be useful.

Not surprisingly, different industries may find different value in particular services. Companies in Wholesale/Distribution and Manufacturing/Construction are more likely to say the ability to "place or take business orders (86% and 83%, respectively)," the "ability to check market prices or availability of raw materials (79% and 80%, respectively)" and the ability to "design and send specs" (78% and 82%, respectively) are useful.

Companies in Health Services and Finance are more likely to say "access to information database" (73% and 79%, respectively) and "access to government records" (81% and 74%, respectively) are useful. Finance companies are especially likely to say the "ability to conduct banking or stock market transactions" (95%) and the "ability to pay taxes or receive refunds via computer terminal" (82%) are useful.

Executives in the Western region of the United States tend to be more likely to call "tele/videoconferencing" (90%) a useful feature of the Information Highway. A majority of executives say the Information Highway will have a positive impact on their marketing and strategic planning. Nearly two-thirds (64%) agree it will help them "increase their company's ablity to expand globally," while a similar number, 62%, say it will afford them the opportunity to make "competitive bids" which they normally wouldn't have access to. Fifty-five percent (55%) agree it will "dramatically cut costs associated with doing business."

Executives in the West tend to be more likely to agree that the Highway will "give them the chance to bid in a competitve situation they normally wouldn't have access to" (76%). In terms of its impact on their business profits, 25% say the Information Highway will help to increase business profits "a little," 39% say it will help increase profits "somewhat," and six percent (6%) say their profits will be favorably impacted by the Information Highway. In contrast, 25% believe their profits will not increase.

Those in Wholesale/Distribution companies are especially likely to say that profits will increase "substantially" or "somewhat" (53%).

Getting On The Information Superhighway

There are several ways an individual business can connect to other computers to send or receive information; the methods vary in terms of cost, ease of access, complexity of setting the connection up, and the extent to which the business can "travel" on the highway. Making these connections generally requires a computer, a modem, and communications software. A modem is a device that can be connected to a computer either internally or externally to allow the computer to use a regular or dedicated phone line to "call" another computer directly. The software provides a convenient and fairly easy to use interface to tell the modem to dial another computer's number. When the connection is made, the two computers can communicate via the software and perform various functions.

One way to connect is for a business to join a specialized network for related businesses in certain industries or areas. Such networks are still uncommon and most likely already known to the potential participants. Their chief advantage is more or less immediate access to highly specialized information for specific purposes. Another way is to subscribe to an "online service," the names of which can be found in any computer magazine. Such services all offer some free online time for new subscribers, reduced access prices for a trial period, and different access "packages" depending on how much the subscriber is willing to spend. These services offer much information, but the lower-cost information is of general interest and not dedicated to specific industries. Access to industry-specific information on such services generally involves a premium in addition to the regular rates. However, some industry associations use these online services to great advantage by utilizing the "e-mail" (electronic mail) functions. An association can have its own e-mail area and can make industry-specific information quickly available to any member, to share information much faster than regular mail or even phone calls would allow.

An extremely easy and low-cost way to access other computers is to call an electronic bulletin board service (BBS). Almost every city has several BBSs (larger cities have hundreds), some of which are dedicated to specific interest groups and others of which are of general interest. Almost every university will have a BBS which can be accessed by the public, some of which even allow access to the university library holdings. Probably the broadest information offerings are the BBSs operated by local, state, and federal government agencies. Some of these contain so much information it would take weeks of full-time browsing just to see all the directory listings. Most government BBSs allow users to ask questions of the agencies by e-mail. Some BBSs even offer access to other BBSs via a "dialout" option, and a very few offer limited access to the biggest information highway of all, the Internet.

TECHNOLOGY OFFERINGS

New Products and Services

There is an rush on new products and services being driven by the $140 billion consumer-electronics industry's need to reinvent itself. Digitizing the "analog" wave forms of sound and pictures into ones and zeros makes possible all kinds of manipulations, from blending text and video to drastically compressing signals.

Encyclopedia on CD-Rom which adds sound and motion-picture clips to the text.

Photo CDs that can be shown on your television screen. Eastman Kodak Co., has made it possible for photo buffs to rolls of film digitized and scanned onto a CD.

Sega Enterprises offers a $300 CD accessory for its $99 Genesis player to give it a more movie-like realism.

A box which digitally corrects the distortions and blind spots created by reflections of music from the floor, walls, and ceilings. The technology, which grew out of work on "stealth" radar-evasion systems, is from MusicSoft Inc., a joint venture of two high-end American audio companies: speaker maker Snell Acoustics Inc. and hardware manufacture Audio Alchemy Inc. The system, which will be introduced by Snell as the CQ-10 generate sound waves that are timed precisely to cancel unwanted echoes. In the early version, buyers will have to pay a sound technician to install correction software, which is customized for the room where the speakers are. The long-term vision is to make the musical output from a CD or digital cassette as easy to manipulate as a document in a word-processing program, with software available for every specialized purpose.

Program developers have come up with about 100 interactive video titles, such as enhanced books, educational programs, and video games.

Analogic Corp. has introduced the TAP-800 family of DSP boards, designed specifically as an open platform for the rapidly growing computer telephony integration market.

The TAP-800 boards have up to six DSP processors with computing performance of up to 360 MFLOPS and are the only boards in the CTI industry that support both standard industry interfaces, according to the company.

The TAP-800 boards are designed for multichannel telephony applications that require additional computational power, including automatic speech recognition, text-to- speech and realtime voice and fax compression.

For more information:

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