Asia Online looks to SMEs for long-term future

The ISP-cum-application service provider, which has officially launched in Australia, already makes 75 to 85 per cent of its local revenue from business customers.

Ron Leeder, Asia Online's Australia country manager, was unable to disclose the current number of consumer and commercial customers in Australia, but said Australia's 35,000 subscribers make up one-third of Asia Online's entire Asia-Pacific subscriber base.

"A lot of residential customers are small dial-up businesses . . . it's hard to break out consumers," he said. Despite admitting Asia Online's primary focus is small-to-medium business, Leeder said residential customers are "still valuable".

"We are certainly going to continue to support residential business, but our business plan focus is on developing solutions for small-to-medium business."

Demonstrating its commitment to the SME space, the organisation yesterday announced a program, called First Steps, to facilitate small-to-medium businesses in getting online.

Asia Online offers SMEs services and solutions in the areas of web development, access, web hosting, ecommerce infrastructure and applications and systems integration services.

Leeder said Asia Online's seven acquisitions in Australia bring a variety of skills and solutions to the organisation. The acquisitions include Brisbane Internet Technology, The Message eXchange in Sydney, Adelaide's Dove, Internet Access Australia in Melbourne, and Interact Technology Group in Canberra, with more expected to come.

Leeder said the company's original budget of $30 million for acquisition has already been spent, but "there is no limit" to the number of acquisitions. "Australia is a very sophisticated business market. It is very important to us," he said.

According to Asia Online president and CEO Keith Randolph, business-to-business ecommerce has a "strong potential" in Asia. " Australia and New Zealand (consumers) are much more willing to adopt ecommerce methods than in other parts of Asia. I think your financial systems are more robust. Consumers have already accepted credit card payments and catalogue purchasing even though other consumers elsewhere haven't," he said.

"More than half the online users in Asia are business, compared with over one third in the US," he added.

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