Small- and medium-sized enterprises should realise that investment in IT is the only way to improve business efficiency in the context of the global economic crisis, experts warned at a seminar last week.

According to the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), there are around 520,000 firms in Vietnam .

Le Van Loi, head of the VCCI's Information Technology Institute, said: "Ninety five percent of them are SMEs and they face great challenges like rising expenditures, high inflation and interest rates. IT applications is the answer for them to survive."

There has been a significant change in the use of IT in Vietnam following the development of the telecom infrastructure, the rapid growth of the banking industry, and tax and customs procedure going electronic.

One study by the Mekong Project Development Facility (MPDF), which assists SMEs in Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia , has found that Vietnamese SMEs can save 42 – 76 percent of management costs if they have appropriate IT systems.

To achieve the maximum possible efficiency, Phi Anh Tuan, vice chairman of the HCM City Computers Association , urged SMEs to define their management goals and IT needs and hire consultants for finding solutions.

Intel Vietnam and the VCCI began their two-month-long "Smart Business" programme on Sept. 15 under which they offer support packages for businesses at discounted prices.

For businesses with up to nine workers, the package consists of computers, internet access and secure software.

For those with 10-50 workers, Intel has added an accounting programme and servers; human resource software has been added for larger businesses./.