How to take advantage of broadband opportunities

Private Matters, June 2012

How to take advantage of broadband opportunitiesAustralian SMEs must challenge themselves and think differently about the NBN to reap the benefits.

There are at least several key background facts provided by NBN Co that remain unchallenged:

  • 41.5 per cent of Australian businesses had a web presence as at June 2009, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
  • Only 27.1 per cent of Australian businesses took orders via the internet as at June 2009, (ABS again)
  • Internet income made up only 5.2 per cent of total income for Australian businesses that received online orders in 2008-09. (This is not an impressive figure).

Sandy Aitken, Partner, Consulting at Deloitte, and long-time senior IT executive gets frustrated (just occasionally) by some business attitudes towards the internet’s potential.

“Some complain about the fact the internet is damaging business in Australia, but it’s going to happen anyway. Whether we like it or not we’ve created something that the general population can get hold of and with people always looking for bargain, it’s easier for some to say this just isn’t right.

“People should be saying:  ‘okay,  if American and European retailers  are assaulting  our Australian market then what do we have in Australia; what unique things do we have that we  should be selling overseas; how should we be branding Australia into those markets’?

Aitken is passionate on the matter.  “I think we have a huge advantage to exploit our positives, but we look quite myopically at the individual problems we have, rather than saying this gives us the opportunity to really do things very differently.

“It’s just not a relevant argument anymore to sit around and say I don’t agree – we have to move on.  Something’s happening in the country, something we can take advantage of.  We are taxpayers and we should take advantage of that; it’s our money that’s going into this so how do we make this beneficial to society and equally how do we make it help better the economy?

“And I think one of the biggest opportunities to a large extent is the small business sector,” he enthuses.

The NBN’s persistent message is that it will deliver a faster, more reliable broadband network for all Australian businesses, no matter which part of the country they’re based in. It says it will enable more Australian businesses — particularly small businesses, regional businesses and not-for-profit organisations —to participate in a global marketplace. NBN Co also says it will help to drive productivity improvements, expand customer bases and enable jobs growth for businesses.

Ultimately, the Australian Government’s Digital Economy goal is to make Australia one of the top five OECD countries when it comes to businesses using broadband to increase productivity and jobs. It’s a grand aim, and it may not be fibre optic broadband alone that is responsible for successes.

Sandy Aitken is also a cloud computing specialist which is why he’s so keen on the potentialities of ‘the cloud’ and the NBN.

“When you combine it (NBN) with something like the cloud you can offer people broadband access to computing resources that allow them to expand overseas with a very small risk. Beforehand, a lot of small businesses in Australia found it very difficult to expand overseas because they were dependant on finding alliances.

“Now opening up and managing it themselves is possible because of the technology.  The  broadband access will allow them to open up a virtual  store in the UK or a virtual  store in America or a virtual store in a number of cities across America; or even a physical store and provide  the capability from Australia to stores that they open anywhere around the world,” he says.

“It allows companies of all different types – not just retail – for the first time to really think about whether they take their business model overseas. It frees them from the difficulties of investment they have had in the past,” he says.

“One of the things a lot of companies are struggling with at the moment is that they’re not really being helped in this process.

“If you look at the broadband advertising at the moment it’s all about when is it going to affect you. To me what it should really be about is how all this affects you; what is this going to do for you; how do you take advantage of it? Whereas, at the moment it’s all really when is it passing your door?

“What we need to get people thinking about is when it starts, what do I do in the first few days to take advantage of it?” Aitken insists.

“Otherwise what could happen is people will be given broadband and the businesses and consumers – and they won’t really know what to do.”