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Australian SMBs must keep pace with consumers in digital world
25 Oct 2011

Optus has unveiled new research about the levels of technology adoption among Australian small and medium businesses (SMBs) and their 'digital readiness' to operate in a digital economy.

The Optus 'Digital Ready' report, which surveyed 850 respondents from SMBs with 50 employees or less, has found that SMBs are divided in their opinions on the importance of technology and digital strategy. It indicates the need for SMBs to keep pace with consumers' expectations and an opportunity to embrace technology to grow their businesses. The report will be available to SMBs from next week to coincide with the launch of a free online tool to help SMBs assess the 'digital readiness' of their business.1

While as many as 50 per cent of surveyed SMBs claim to know enough about IT to make informed decisions, 43 per cent find it hard to keep up with technology developments. In addition, 73 per cent prefer to wait until IT products and services are tried and tested before they adopt, and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) would welcome advice from IT experts. The findings indicate low SMB confidence2, with only a minority (18 per cent) of those surveyed anticipating significant growth in revenue and customers in the next 12 months.

Rohan Ganeson, Managing Director, Optus Small and Medium Business said, "Our research shows that in most cases attitudes and technology adoption among Australia's SMB sector appears to be broadly split 50/50. Only around half of SMBs value mobile working options and provide staff with access to email on mobile devices, and the picture is the same in the online and digital space with only 50 per cent having a website.

"When you consider that 93 per cent of Australians access the internet daily3 and 71 percent use their smartphones to browse the web4, our research indicates that SMBs are missing out on potential opportunities if they don't keep pace with how consumers want to engage with them. Consumers live in a digital world and the internet is going mobile and we believe these expectations will increasingly require SMBs to operate in the digital space - if they don't they risk falling behind."

Key research findings based on the SMBs surveyed:

  • Digital and Online Strategy: The majority of SMBs are yet to take full advantage of online technologies and are also divided on the importance of digital online strategy. More than a quarter (26 per cent) see no value in an online presence and just 48 per cent agree that digital online strategies are absolutely critical or quite important to their business. Encouragingly, 65 per cent believe in the future importance of digital online strategies.
  • 48 per cent of Australian SMBs don't have a website for their business and of those that do only 28 per cent are extremely satisfied with what they do have. The way the majority of websites used is not dynamic, indicating scope for SMBs to do more and investigate how an online strategy can be made to work for them. Only 21 per cent state they use social media channels for business engagement.
  • The cloud is still mysterious: The cloud is still a mystery to many SMBs, with 59 per cent unaware or unsure of cloud solutions and what it offers and only 8 per cent admit to fully understanding cloud solutions. 80 per cent are either not using or considering cloud solutions or are unsure of what cloud is. Of those that know about the cloud but are not using the technology (34 per cent), almost one-third (28 per cent) don't believe it will help their business and 25 per cent admit they require further information. Of the 20 per cent using cloud or considering adoption, the main solution used/of interest is for data back up. Currently, only four per cent of SMBs are using cloud solutions for their business. The key benefits seen by cloud users are the ability to access data from anywhere (50 per cent) and a lower total cost of ownership (24 per cent).
  • Opinions divided on value of mobility: Around half of SMBs value mobility options and the majority equip staff with mobile phones, mainly smartphones, to enable them to work more on the move. 44 per cent feel mobile working options for staff is important for business with 70 per cent providing staff with mobile phones (46 per cent smartphones) and 5 per cent providing tablets. Over half (52 per cent) provide staff with access to email on mobile devices.
  • Data Back Up strategies vary: 21 per cent don't regularly back up data, and of those that do 53 per cent back up onsite and just 8 per cent offsite.
  • PC Security strong, mobile security playing catch up: SMBs understanding of PC security is strong, but when it comes to mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) the level or awareness and implementation is much lower, potentially exposing critical business data to loss or theft. Only 46 per cent secure their mobile devices with mobile device software – almost half those with anti-virus software on their PCs (89 per cent).
  • Online Collaboration not rated by SMBs: Less than one-third (30 per cent) consider online collaboration as a necessary business tool and just over half provide individual emails to staff (54 per cent). Only 16 per cent of businesses use online storage as a means to collaborate internally with 29 per cent relying on a server in the office. 41 per cent use email to collaborate with their staff. 57 per cent are not considering implementing instant messaging.

Launch of digital readiness self-assessment tool and seminars
To help small businesses reflect on their technology usage and 'digital readiness' and offer guidance on how to address technology challenges, Optus will launch a new online self-assessment tool. Available from next week, the tool will allow SMBs to take a quick survey to provide them with their digital readiness score which can be compared across various industry sectors. Recipients that complete the survey will also receive a free copy of the Optus Digital Ready report at the same time.

To help educate small businesses about how they can take advantage of new digital strategies to grow their business, Optus will also be holding a seminar series in Sydney (8th November) and Melbourne (9th November). The seminars will cover the Digital Report research findings and emerging digital trends, with presentations from leading industry experts. SMBs can register at www.optusbusiness.com.au/seminar.

"There is a huge opportunity for small business to evaluate how technology can help them better manage costs, grow their business and respond to changing consumer behaviours. We're taking action by providing SMBs with the tools they need to assess their digital readiness for the future, and a series of seminars to shed light on emerging technology trends relevant to their business," Mr Ganeson said.

For more information, visit www.optusbusiness.com.au/cloudsolutions.

Click here to view digital ready infograhic.

Media contacts:
Kasia Ciszak/Danny Wong
Optus Corporate Affairs
Tel: (02) 8082 7850
E: optusSMBteam@text100.com.au

Jennie Holland/Andy Wray
Text 100 Public Relations
Tel: 02 9956 5733

*About the research
The Optus SMB digital readiness research was commissioned by Optus and completed by Jones Donald Strategy Partners. The research was conducted by telephone with 850 individuals working for SMBs with 50 employees or less in the retail, construction, accommodation and food services, rental, hiring and real estate services, and the financial and insurance services sectors. Fieldwork was conducted between 14 July and 10 August 2011. Data is weighted to reflect the overall Australian SMB market.

1 As defined by Optus
2 SMB confidence expressed as hoped-for increases in revenue, or customer numbers, or employee numbers, varies across industries.
3 The Australian Online Consumer Report, February 2011, Nielson
4 Australia Mobile Smartphone Consumer Study, September 2011, IPSOS Research /Google