Australia’s small business sector is stuck in the digital dark ages, according to the results from a new survey.
CPA Australia has published its Asia-Pacific small business survey, which found Australian small businesses are less likely to invest in, use, earn from, or offer customers the use of digital technologies than their Asia-Pacific counterparts.
Australia’s small businesses have been labelled as winning the “wooden spoon” for being the least likely to begin or increase online sales during COVID-19; the least likely to use social media for business; the least likely to invest in technology in 2020; the least likely to profit from their investment in technology; and the least likely to review their cyber-security measures over the last six months.
In several other measures, Australian small businesses fared only slightly better.
They were the second least likely to earn revenue from online sales and third least likely to offer customers the choice of digital payment technologies, according to the data.
For CPA Australia CEO Andrew Hunter, the results are disappointing.
“Other markets made major in-roads on digital transformation during the pandemic. Clearly, Australian small businesses need more help than they’re getting to leave the digital dark ages behind,” he commented.
Despite the doom and gloom, Mr Hunter has observed “a clear link between innovation and performance”.
“Our survey shows that growing businesses are more likely to use new technologies, e-commerce and social media,” he said.
The report flagged concerns for businesses choosing not to innovate, and said such a failure is holding them back — with just 6.7 per cent of Australian small businesses indicating they will be introducing a product, process or service that is unique to their market or the world in 2021.
This figure is much smaller than the 23 per cent of small businesses across other markets who would be doing the same.
According to the CEO, “if Australian small businesses don’t transform, sales will go to more innovative competitors overseas”.
He argues that while businesses should be playing an active role in digital transformation, such responsibility can’t rest solely with them, stating that “the government needs to play a bigger role in helping businesses manage this change”.
“Ad hoc financial support for digital transformation isn’t sufficient,” Mr Hunter stated, adding that there needs to be “a significant commitment” of public funding to help small businesses transform.
“Given how far behind Australian businesses are, the level of investment needed to bridge the digital divide is quite substantial,” he conceded.
“Last year, Singapore announced an AU$325 million program to support local businesses with digital transformation.”