The world of the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) is a far different place from what it was 10 years ago. One of the biggest evolutions has been that in relation to how digitally enabled small businesses are compared to then. Whilst there is still a long way to go there are some pretty interesting statistics that have come out of the annual Sensis e-Business Report 20161.
Some interesting Stats from the Sensis e-Business Report about Regionals
The whole report is worth reading. It comes out on a regular basis and its always interesting to go through it, especially comparatively with other years. But for the purpose of this blog article, I am going to do a little bit of cherry picking of stats.
98% of SMB’s (as the report refers to them) owned a computer of some kind compared to 88% in the year previous. 93% of SMBs are connected to the Internet and nearly 50% are using some form of social media.
The SME environment is also become more geographically flexible because of the ability to get online. Professional services especially are increasingly being offered online and in a way that allows that business to be mobile and to be based in more than one place where appropriate. And again, its showing up in the stats.
Similar numbers of SMEs owned computers, although predictably , regionals had a higher percentage of notebooks (61% vs 41%)2. A greater percentage of regionals have a broadband connection (89% vs 86% in the case of our metro cousins3) and more regionals are using social media in their businesses (51% vs 46%4). And it will come as no surprise to any of us in a regional area that we are less satisfied with the speed of our broadband access (59%) than metro SMEs (69%5).
And wouldn’t you know it, more businesses who do tend to take orders online were regionally based too (57% vs 46% metro) and more regional businesses were likely to take payments online (74% vs 63% metro6).
And of mobile apps? Well again, more regional SMEs are likely to have one (11%) than metros (7%)7.
The Victorian State Government Gets It
So connected SMEs in regional areas are a thing. And its likely that they will be more of a thing in the future. In 2014, the Victorian State Government emphasised the significance and importance of broadband, being connected to the ‘Net and having access to mobile technologies to regional communities and businesses in its final report on their Final Report: Inquiry into the Opportunities for People to Use Telecommuting and E-Business to Work Remotely in Rural and Regional Victoria8
In the Chairman’s Forward, Paul Weller stated that:
“The Committee is in agreement that we would like to see remote working accepted by employers; rural and regional Victorians having access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband; and a rural and regional workforce possessing the skills necessary to succeed in the digital economy. To this end we need clear policy direction particularly with regard to employer responsibilities; more information on the quantifiable benefits of telecommuting including productivity and infrastructure savings; government leading by example in promoting telecommuting; access to technology via hubs or smart work centres outside Metropolitan Melbourne; better use of existing infrastructure; and better data on the benefits of the National Broadband Network.”
The report goes on to outline in detail the issues and benefits of teleworking and telecommuting but also dedicates a whole chapter of the report to the development of regional ‘hubs’ or co-working spaces with facilities that allow for collaboration across the Internet and also high quality videoconferencing that allows a genuine ‘in the room’ feel for all participants.
Good Things but …..
The message is clear. The potential is there. Good things can happen in regional and rural areas. Good things can happen with SMEs regardless of where they are located when appropriate technology integration occurs.
But its more critical than that. Those good things must continue to happen for a number of reasons. The first is that the majority of businesses in regional and rural Australia are SMEs. If they are to continue to flourish then a lot of the potential infrastructure and facilities that we are looking to, must become actualities. The vexed issue of access to high speed broadband has over the last 5 years become one of the top priorities of regional and rural communities, if not the top, for a range of very good reasons, of which doing business is one.
A New Generation. How do we keep ‘em?
But its also about a new generation of people; young innovators, entrepreneurs, business decision makers and leaders who were literally born and raised on the Internet which is integrated intrinsically in how the live work and play. In Ballarat, Victoria, where I live,we have seen an early rollout of the NBN network, the majority of which was FTTP and fixed wireless.
We have seen these young people make decisions about buying their first homes and locating their business activities, specifically where they have the best access to broadband and Internet facilities. The maintenance of this generation in regional and rural areas and even the prospect of attracting them to these areas, depends on many things (services, facilities and access to many things) but one of those many, and non-negotiable things, is access to affordable and reliable broadband and mobile technologies.
In future blog articles, I’ll link up some case studies on the trials and triumphs of young SMEs in my patch of Victoria, and for those of you who are those SMEs, I hope to start an ongoing conversation about how best to leverage various broadband and cloud-based technologies as a regional/rural business and how you deal with the inevitable challenges of location. And its not one size fits all, so I might also look at the profiles and differing needs and practices of different types of SME as well. IN the meantime, I hope you have had an interesting read to this point :-)
15 March 2017