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Digital innovation critical to keep SMEs competitive: Report

James Mitchell
01 September 2021 2 minute readShare
Digital innovation critical to keep SMEs competitive

Further acceleration of the digital economy is essential in order to keep skills locally and ensure the health of Australian businesses as producers rather than consumers.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) is urging the government to further support digital innovations which allow Australian industries to remain globally competitive and reach the government’s goal of being a digital economy by 2030.

In a white paper released today, the peak body for innovative technology said that without accelerating digitisation, there is real risk of some key industry sectors going from producers to consumers as well as losing IP and skills offshore, rather than nurturing them locally. With global trading partners investing heavily in technology, Australia runs the risk of becoming uncompetitive, the AIIA said.

Sectors that in particular are in need of a digital makeover, as named in the white paper, include health, manufacturing and agriculture. The white paper also said Australia is behind on developing a $300 billion-plus AI industry by not investing in commercialisation of its start-up community. Also, focus is needed on cross-industry “horizontals”, including Quantum, digital engineering, industry incentives and cyber security.

The AIIA called on the government to create industry hubs and incentives and play a leading role in initiating a new era of technology innovation in Australia. They also want government to “ensure the new generation of Australian technology innovators are supported to thrive, not just survive, through a strong shift from a research-driven agenda to one of commercialisation”.

“There is a lack of strategy, policy and leadership to propel Australia’s ICT sector forward, resulting in the country being a laggard. We need uniform standards that will support industry and foster innovation,” said AIIA CEO Ron Gauci. “The importance of retaining our IP and skills within the country can’t be overstated.”

SMEs benefit from digital boost

Speaking to MyBusiness, Mr Gauci said because small to medium businesses form a big part of the Australian economy, digital transformation is instrumental to them.

“We’re trying to boost Australian innovation and make sure local industries continue to be competitive. We want to retain local capacity and local capabilities,” he said.

One area which he sees as priority for SMEs is helping improve their digital skills and literacy.

“How many businesses understand what benefits technology, like AI, can provide?” Mr Gauci said.

The other is funding. Back in May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $1.2 billion in Australia’s digital future through the Digital Economy Strategy. This included $12.7 million to help SMEs build their digital capacity and $15.3 million to drive business uptake of e-invoicing. The NSW government also announced a $2 billion Digital Restart Fund.

Mr Gauci said that while it was encouraging to see the government going down the important path of providing funding, they now want to see a clear plan for how businesses can access that funding. And more needs to be done.

The AIIA said it’s pleased that some measures have already been adopted, including an R&D tax incentive and “patent box” which allows tax breaks for profits derived from intellectual property, investment in digital skills, cyber-security resilience and the appointment of a Minister for the Digital Economy.

Digital innovation critical to keep SMEs competitive: Report
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James Mitchell

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