With over $1 billion allocated to its Digital Economy Strategy in the recent Federal Budget announcement, the government has certainly confirmed its intention to grow Australia’s digital economy by incentivising businesses of all sizes to hop on the digital transformation train towards a successful, collaborative and sustainable digital ecosystem.
The government clearly wants to lead by example with significant funds thrown into myGov and My Health Record as well as the acceleration of the Consumer Data Right rollout and the delivery of a program to make the Australian government’s data assets discoverable to support reuse by businesses and the enhancement of a national business intelligence resource system.
In addition to online digitisation, added protection for consumers and data rollouts, the government is also focusing on the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities and their adoption by businesses through the creation of a “National Artificial Intelligence Centre”. Partnerships with small businesses will also be formed and extensively funded to pilot projects for AI-based solutions for the nation. Additional funding will also be allocated to projects such as the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Graduates Program to attract and train ‘home-grown, job-ready AI specialists’ or ‘Catalysing the AI opportunity in our regions’ by co-funding up to 36 competitive grants to develop AI solutions that address regional problems.
If well delivered, this Digital Economy Strategy should allow Australian small businesses to capitalise on the opportunities that digital technologies are creating. The Government’s emphasis on “small” business adoption will be met with additional funding for the provision of independent advice to Australian small businesses to help them build their digital capabilities through the ‘Digital Solutions – Australian Small Business Advisory Services program’ and to enhance the value of electronic invoicing to help businesses reduce costs and increase productivity.
While the fine prints are yet to be clarified, this creates huge opportunities for small businesses and if they understand what’s in it for them and start capitalising on them right now.
- Firstly, they are receiving additional funding and practical support. There are numerous businesses out there with all the right ideas but with no access to expertise to transform those ideas into a sound plan and funding to execute the plan. For example, last year’s Small Business Digital Champions provided 100 Australian small businesses with a digital transformation for their business and they each received up to $18,500 in digital support, and additional products and services from corporate partners. The outcome of the program exceeded all expectations and businesses involved in the program have significantly benefited from their digital transformations. The national digital strategy will also enable the development and retention of local talents and therefore increase the pool of expertise available to Australian business in general.
- Secondly, business will get access to an ecosystem with better and cheaper technologies. AI, machine learning applications, the 5G and even 6G networks will very quickly integrate themselves into day-to-day applications small businesses will use to streamline, automate, improve compliance and fraud detection and make more informed business decisions with a larger and cost-effective pool of information readily available.
The benefits of a digital transformation are clear. Small businesses that already have a digital presence were far less affected by the pandemic than those that had no digital presence. Digital presence makes a business far more competitive and accessible. With digital transformation, a small business will find it easier to find and grow its audience and convert it into paying customers and leverage emerging technologies in such a way to accelerate innovation and efficiencies.
Some of my small business clients have recently begun their own digital transformation journey and have experienced significant success as a result.
One of them is a Sunshine Coast-based family-owned painting business who realised that to survive in the next decade, they needed to improve their marketing in order to grow their customer base and reach digitally savvy consumers. The business was able to receive expert advice and practical support to map out its marketing goals, as well as government funding to implement them.
Among other initiatives, they refreshed their logo and built a new website that is easy for customers to navigate and markets the business as a premium, high quality service provider. This has greatly influenced all their decisions about how their website looks, the tone of their communications and where they advertise. The website is more than just a marketing tool for them, it is an interface providing tremendous value to customers as it helps them find answers to their questions, lets them compare services and quotes and see the business’ previous work and customer reviews. The business also maximised its online presence and invested in its customer experience by increasing presence on their digital touchpoints (Twitter, Facebook, online ads, Instagram, email, YouTube).
In addition to its “digitalised” marketing strategy, the business was also able to leverage on digital technologies to streamline time consuming functions by using automation. It identified administrative tasks employees often repeated. For them, invoicing was a tedious process and very prone to errors, often resulting in a dissatisfying experience for the customer. They therefore adopted a CRM and an accounting software package to alleviate accounting errors and use electronic mail to generate reviews on how customers have interacted with their campaigns. They also integrated a scheduling system with their CRM to track job status and monitor performance.
Another key pillar of their digital strategy was collecting and utilising data. They invested in add-ons to their CRM and website analysing. They analysed the performance of their advertising and marketing campaigns in real-time. These insights allowed them to make knowledgeable selections based on what works properly and what doesn’t.
In the last 12 months and amid COVID, this business has tripled its client base, has employed three additional employees, with two more government funded apprentices to come, while reducing its administrative overhead costs. The owners no longer work in the business, they now work on it and their profits are expected to quadruple in the next two years.
Every small business that undergoes a digital transformation will accomplish it uniquely but benefits (long and short-term) are well and truly worth it. With its Digital Economy Strategy, the government is making it even more accessible and affordable for small businesses to take the leap towards digitisation.