New report: SMEs in digital black spot

Small to medium businesses failing to keep up with digital advances are putting their productivity and security at risk, according to a new report released by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

The centre’s senior research fellow Daniel Kiely said the report revealed a striking image of underutilisation of ICT, with 90 per cent of small businesses placing little or no importance on data analytics.

“It is in proper and effective use of the internet that businesses can increase productivity and develop intel for their existing and emerging markets and see information to enhance and develop innovations,” he said.

Of major concern, he said, was that 75 per cent of small businesses attached no or little importance to cyber security.

“We live in an era where customer, supplier and employee data are increasingly digitalised. Small businesses benefit from proper use of such data, but also need to be aware of the risks,” he said.

“It is imperative to raise awareness among small business owners and to ensure that appropriate processes and systems are in place to mitigate such risks.”

“This compares with larger businesses with eight out of 10 reporting cyber security being of major or more importance.”

The report – released last Thursday – revealed that 95 per cent of businesses were accessing ICT, but mostly for traditional purposes such as accounting and invoicing rather than activities that could enhance productivity.

The report, called Falling through the net: The digital divide in WA, also found:

  • Only 40 per cent of businesses with 0-4 employees had a web presence, compared with 94 per cent of businesses with 200 or more employees
  • Only 31 per cent of businesses with 0-4 employees had a social media presence, compared with 80 per cent of businesses with 200 or more employees
  • Businesses with 200+ employees are most likely to use IT specialists (83 per cent) compared with 46 per cent with 20-199 employees; 24 per cent with 5-19 people; and 15 per cent with 0-4 people.

Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Director Alan Duncan said businesses needed to embrace the power of data analytics, product and process innovations and the internet of things.

“Co-ordinated schemes need to be developed to offer training to businesses in the opportunities before them and the risks they face in the conditional world,” he said.

“The information highway is every bit as important as the freeways that connect us and digital infrastructure must sit at the heart of the state’s infrastructure planning and be integrated into the planning, budgeting and rollout strategies of transport infrastructure particularly across the regions.”

Women in Technology WA Chair Pia Turcinov said conversations around digital had focused on the big end of town and start-ups, with SMEs – despite being the largest employers in the economy – being largely under recognised.

She said while 95 per cent of businesses accessing the internet was positive, there was a need to change the mindset of SMEs as too many thought going digital meant using social media or having a Facebook page.

“It’s far more than that, so how do we educate them and move them into that space where they see productivity issues and optimising what their business looks like in every sense of the workplace,” she said.

“The competitor is no longer down the road. The competitor for SMEs is worldwide, we’ve seen Amazon come into the market … how do we futureproof the Australian SME sector so they can actually gauge their own interest and grow their businesses?”

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan said West Australians were living though a time of remarkable change and the workforce was changing at a pace that it hadn’t seen before.

“Forty per cent of the jobs we are doing today won’t exist in 2025, whether that comes to pass, time will tell.”

To view the report, visit here.

► CCI plays an active role in representing the interests of the business community at important inquiries, reviews and on major issues. Find out more here.

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