Technology manufacturers, vendors, and consultants aren't doing enough to help small businesses deal with their IT headaches, according to a new global survey.

In a survey of 1,800 small-business owners from around the world, just 25 percent said they seek help from IT hardware and software manufacturers, while 22 percent turn to IT consultants, according to a joint global technology study by Dell and the International Council for Small Business Global, a Washington-based research group. Overall, as many as half reported using few or no outside IT sources -- even as 66 percent described IT as "extremely important" to their business, the survey found.

The low percentages suggest small-business owners feel that these sources fail to effectively address their IT needs, researchers said.

Since small businesses rarely have a dedicated IT staff -- or the budget to hire consultants  -- they tend to rely more heavily than larger companies on product manufacturers and vendors for help. Yet, most owners surveyed said these sources "often fail to provide adequate tech support and service" and are "not helpful in dealing with frequent server slowdowns and failures," according to the study.      

Among the most common IT problems cited by business owners were frequent server slowdowns and failures, difficulty keeping PCs optimized and maintained for security, and difficulties setting up new systems. They also struggled with trial-ware, sample software and free-ware applications that were preinstalled on new systems.

Researchers divided these concerns into three key areas: Installation, maintenance, and upgrades; data security; and problem-solving.

Difficulties installing and maintaining new applications can slow the pace of day-to-day operations, while upgrades often require investing  in intellectual and financial resources that aren't always available.

At the same time, as small businesses invest in new systems and networks, they grow increasingly concerned with a lack IT safeguards for data security  -- which, in turn, often requires more infrastructure investment.  

Finally, researchers found that most small-business owners don't identify a single "solution leader" to solve an IT problem, such as a software manufacturer, vendor or consultant. Instead, they look to see what other small businesses within their industry are doing. While cheap and convenient, this method might not always prove to be helpful, researchers said.

They said IT businesses needed to make "concerted efforts" to fill in this role.   

Published on: Jul 16, 2007