Only 16 percent of British small business managers think that the Internet has increased their operational efficiency, while nearly half think that it has made running their businesses more complex. That's according to a study carrried out by the Cranfield School of Management on behalf of Pipex Business.

The survey of 422 SMEs, conducted by Cranfield, showed that despite a high level of SMEs embracing the Internet for their business (97 percent have email, 94 percent have broadband, and 84 percent have a website), 60 percent do not feel that the Internet has increased their operational efficiency.

"The Internet makes SME lives more difficult," said Cranfield's Prof Burke, who with Dr Hussels, conducted the research. "Only 16 percent of UK SMEs feel the Internet has increased operational efficiency, which is a fairly startling discovery." Indeed, 46 percent feel the Internet has raised the complexity of running their business, with over 62 percent saying the Internet has increased competition from foreign markets - although this has another side, 56 percent of respondents said that the Internet had enabled them to sell their products abroad.

One in three SMEs strongly feel the Internet has made it harder to protect confidential company data, while 48 percent believed the Internet caused employees to waste time, thanks to distractions like social networking, personal web surfing etc.

The research came as part of the launch by Pipex Business of its small business broadband portfolio, as well as the launch of a new portal aimed at providing information tailored for the small business sector. The portal combines information about legal, financial, and HR issues etc, along with news and other features likely to interest the small business user.

Pipex Business was acquired by Tiscali last July, but according to Lance Spencer, Pipex's product and marketing director, it has been around since 1991 and already has 100,000 business customers.

It now offers business-grade ADSL2+ services specifically aimed at the small business market. The cheapest is Pipex Lite (targeting very small businesses), at £14.50 per month (excluding VAT), whilst the most expensive is its Premium Plus service (targeting businesses of 10 plus staff), at £49 per month.

There are offered as three month contracts, lessening the fear of user lock-in.

Speaking at the launch of the portfolio in central London on Thursday evening, Spencer said that only 23 percent of small businesses currently use business-grade ADSL, a figure that has not changed much over the past 18 months. Over 40 percent still use “consumer grade” connections of 2Mbit/s or below, with many small businesses stuck on a lowly 512bit/s connection.

Pipex Business is offering speeds from 8MB/s to 16MB/s, with a 24/7 dedicated support call centre, as well as bundled anti-virus or security suite offerings, and a free static IP address.

All packages, bar the entry-level offering, offer enhanced care for an extra £10.56 per month, which gives targeted response times "at least four times as quick as those of standard consumer packages." Essentially, this gives the user access to a dedicated escalation team which guarantees that, if a fault is not fixed within 10 hours, they will get a full refund of that month's rental on the affected line.