*This article was originally written and published by the Herald Sun here
Australian small businesses are leaving close to $50 billion of economic value on the table by failing to fully exploit the technology solutions at their disposal.
According to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by Google, an additional $49.2 billion of private sector output can be unlocked over the next ten years by Australian businesses. However, achieving that outcome will require a coordinated effort to bridge the existing skills gap.
“There’s relatively low hanging fruit in the way that small businesses can better use the internet and mobile technology,” the report says.
“The companies that do that can become more productive in what they do, it makes them more competitive and grow their output.”
In geographic terms, nationally every federal electorate would contribute almost $327.7 million of economic output over the next ten years (or approximately $33 million per year), roughly the same as a significant capital project like a major roadway or a hospital update, the report states.
According to the report, on a state by state basis Queensland stands to gain the most, while the rental and real estate sector look set to derive the highest digital benefits.
With small businesses often less confident about their knowledge and use of digital technology, the PWC report recommends the development of a targeted and flexible training program for the sector.
Such a program could be provisioned through partnerships between business, government and education providers, in both the public and private sectors, the report adds.
Another critical factor, according to the report, is the provision of reliable broadband infrastructure, particularly in the regional areas.
With the federal government invested in rolling out a National Broadband Network, PWC’s Thorpe said that speed isn’t really the problem and the focus needs to be on reliability and ensuring there’s sufficient capacity in the networks to help businesses in rural and regional Australia spread their wings.
“One of the things that surprised me is that most businesses have access to broadband of a sufficient scale to run most things that small businesses do,” he said.
“The issue becomes as a business grows it may want multiple people on the same connection doing multiple things.”
Mr Thorpe added that there’s enormous potential in regional areas, where there’s a higher proportion of SMEs operating. As new technology trends start to make inroads in these areas, connectivity is going to become crucial as businesses seek access to real-time global data and look to deploy emerging sensor technology.
“There’s a lot of potential and I think there are a lot of pre-conceptions here that need to be broken,” he said.
The finding of the report were presented on Monday by Google managing director Maile Carnegie to a group of senior policymakers and government officials at an ACCI business summit in Canberra.