integration and although large corporations are investing extensively in electronic capabilities, based on this mid-1998 sample, there was still little use of electronic business among SMEs. The extent to which SMEs are dealing with small customers who are less likely to have this capability is not known. The results of the survey may indicate that SMEs need help in terms of investments, technical know-how, and understanding of the value of electronic business transactions.
SMEs in the survey were generally better equipped in terms of computer-aided design (CAD); 74 percent had CAD capabilities. Approximately half reported using SPC, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), materials and resource planning (MRP), and hazardous material (HAZMAT) handling capabilities. Although only 41 percent were certified by the International Standards Organization (ISO), SMEs clearly felt that ISO certification was important; 35 percent of the respondents reported plans to obtain certification.
SMEs characterized relationships with their customers as somewhat more "partner-like" than "adversarial," although it appears from the data that there is substantial room for improvement in this area. The SMEs considered early involvement in product development, receiving production forecasts from customers, and sharing performance data to be very important. They reported less of a need for improvement in payment terms, supplier recognition programs, sharing of cost data, and financing. The implication was that SMEs worry less about operations over which they have control and more about factors that are dependent on customers. Therefore, customers should work more closely with SME suppliers in the areas of product development, information sharing, and performance data feedback.
The median annual sales of survey participants was $7.7 million. The committee divided the sample into two equal parts: SMEs with annual sales above the median ("large") and SMEs with sales below the median ("small"). The committee also assessed differences in survey results between SMEs with a higher concentration of major customers (i.e., more than 34 percent of sales from their top three customers) and companies with a more dispersed customer base (i.e., less than 34 percent of sales from their top customers).
The survey indicated little difference between large and small SMEs in the percentage of customers ordering electronically, indicating, perhaps, that customers were still in the process of adopting these capabilities. Large SMEs considered customer sharing of future product and technology plans slightly more important than small SMEs. Large SMEs