Harnessing digital technology for business growth

6th June, 2016

Over the next ten years, Australian small-to medium-sized businesses have the potential to tap into an additional $49.2 billion if they decide to get digitally savvy.

In a 2015 study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), the industry giant found that rural and regional businesses were likely to take the lion’s share of potential economic growth, with 53 percent being realised outside of metropolitan areas.

Keen? Sounds great, but what does digital innovation really mean, and why are smart country businesses able to make the most of it?

What is digital innovation?

While it’s a good start, having a website does not mean your business is digitally savvy. Digital innovation is the use of digital tools or infrastructure to grow all areas of your business, including finance, human resources, marketing, and production.

In 2016, the prevalence of accessible and affordable technologies means businesses don’t need to have a massive IT team to take advantage of digital innovation opportunities; they just need to know their business and how they’d like to improve it.

Trends set to impact on digital innovation

One of the keys to harnessing new digital technology is knowing what trends are shaping the environment.

The time and cost involved in investing in new technology can be a barrier for small-business owners. So if that $42.9 billion worth of potential beckons, keeping on trend could help you make better-informed decisions.

Unlocking that $49.2 billion potential

Once you know what’s shaping digital innovation, you can reflect on your own business.

The Queensland Government Business & Industry Portal provides a simple nine-component audit that tells you just how digitally mature your business strategy is. It aligns with the findings of PwC’s study, which argues that potential can only be unlocked by establishing three pillars:

  • efficiencies
  • skills
  • infrastructure

Digital innovation in action

At Swim & Survival Academy, a large swim school in regional Victoria, it’s easy to see how careful attention to these pillars can lead to increased sustainability and profit.

“We employ over 50 employees, many of whom are casual. Recruiting, training and then retaining staff is a massive cost to our business. The time invested alone is extraordinary,” says Coral Arnold, a digital training specialist who develops digitally-based, in-house training programs at nationally accredited standards.

READ: Driving the innovation agenda in a legacy business

Efficiency gains

“By taking advantage of accessible training platforms, we’ve been able to consolidate our induction and training program so that a large part of it is self-paced, online,” says Arnold. “Not only do we save on trainer time, but much of the reporting is automated, and aligned with national standards to help us with compliance.”

For the Swim & Survival Academy, it was an upfront investment that the owners had to think long and hard about, but the return has been well worth it.

Profit potential

“By investing this way, and partnering at the same time with a Registered Training Organisation, Swim & Survival Academy can now offer (and attract) employees with a Certificate III in Aquatics that can be gained in-house,” says Ms Arnold.

Recently, when government legislation changed, Swim & Survival Academy also became one of the few swim schools eligible to participate in employee funding initiatives. Their digital innovation went from saving them money, to gaining them money.

So why are rural and regional businesses most likely to benefit?

The answer is in the need

“It lies in those trends,” says Jelenko Dragisic, leading Australian collaboration strategist and author. “Businesses in regional areas are the most likely to benefit, because issues like supply and demand, and skill shortages, currently restrict their business.”

Trends, such as the increase in borderless commerce, mean increased markets, despite being located in smaller communities, with limited populations. Digitalisation of jobs and the accessibility of mobile technologies mean regional businesses aren’t limited to local skill sets, but can access staff anywhere in the world.

“Clearly, regionally based businesses have a lot to gain,” says Mr Dragisic.

“What I find interesting is how digital innovation not only leads to profit and sustainability through enhanced production or system efficiencies, but also clever opportunities for collaboration. Swim & Survival Academy is an example of that, combining their need for greater efficiencies training staff, with a partnership that opened up new markets.”

Getting digitally savvy

So what are our top tips for tapping into $42.9 billion worth of economic potential?

  • Take a close look at technology trends that could help your business.
  • Explore how digitally ready you currently are using simple audit tools.
  • Develop a digital strategy for all the functional areas of your business.
  • Be prepared to invest …and reap the rewards.