It was an interesting meeting with Durham BID. Their offices are in the centre of Durham, just next to Greggs in case you are wondering. BID stands for business improvement district and they have the role of trying to improve the lot of the businesses, all four hundred and sixty of them, within what is a very tight Durham footprint. I decided to drive down into the city centre rather than walk as it was wet and squally mid-winter’s day. The meeting was not until half past nine and so I made good use of the wireless network in the Town Hall. As it happens I could get onto the free wireless from RBS’ network who resided below the BID office but I was not to know.
It was an interesting meeting because it picked up on the themes of day seven and broadband demand stimulation. The service we are supporting, through a gap funding model, is very much focussed upon the retail customer and not the business customer. It is a product aimed at the home rather than the office. The assumption is that businesses will need greater uncontended bandwidth and will naturally seek these products to improve their overall offering. These days there are many businesses that run from home and some, such as games development, may require high availability, reliability and capacity.
So the business market is different from its retail counterpart. It is smaller with almost ten times the number of homes than business premises yet it could be argued that the need for access to reliable digital services is greater in the former than the latter. In the future all business will rely upon technology. We are getting there now and so those that are left behind in the inexorable rise of technology will find that they may well have missed the boat for ever. Digital will not be an option.
If I was to start a business tomorrow then the first two things I would get would be a merchant account and a digital presence. I would get these even before bricks and mortar, shelving or stock. I remember once having a conversation with the proprietor of a cycle shop where he told me that he wasn’t online. He said that he could not compete. But he was already competing, he just didn’t realise it. His customers were already assessing his products, his prices, his service levels and his convenience with other cycle shops online.
Getting this message across is a problem. In the home sector it is a numbers game. Get people on board and they will tell their friends and deployment will pick up speed. Business owners have friends but they are far less likely to give away a potential competitive edge to their neighbours. The messages we need to get across are different. How can they use digital to drive up efficiency, access new markets and develop new products? The key to getting these messages across is to find someone that businesses will trust to represent them in a non-competitive arena.
The Durham BID may be that someone. We’ll be meeting up again.