SMEs struggling to adapt new communications technologies

Australia's small and medium business represent a large and untapped market for digital communications technologies according to an in-depth study of SMEs' attitudes towards digital communications technologies (DCTs) published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The ACMA said the research was important because SMEs are significant contributors in terms of industrial output and employment across all sectors of the economy but were "slower than larger businesses and international counterparts to adopt digital business models and applications." It said that three in five SMEs were claiming that low levels of digital literacy were preventing them from running their businesses efficiently."

According to the study, commissioned from market research firm GfK Australia, "There is lack of understanding among SMEs of the full suite of digital communications technologies that could provide some potential benefit to their business." It adds: "Many SMEs are experiencing information overload which makes it hard for them to judge what is useful and worthwhile."

In addition to canvassing a number of SMEs GfK consulted a handful of industry leaders, identified in the report for their views. It said that SMEs need targeted and timely support and guidance to further engage in the digital environment. "Solutions tools need to be simple and clear, credible and impartial, from trusted information sources. ... Industry leaders felt strongly that the most effective way of engaging SMEs on the issue of DCT is to show them how others in similar situations have approached DCTs.

"SMEs highlighted the importance of needing to see a strong case for adoption of digital communications technologies in the immediate future to offset potential barriers to use."

The industry leaders consulted felt that necessity would drive SMEs to take up digital technologies, but they were concerned that this reactive approach would lead to piecemeal adoption rather than adoption "in a holistic, strategically based, and well thought out manner."

IT market research firms such as Forrester have been saying for some time that large enterprises must undergo a 'digital transformation' to survive, and technology consultants whose opinions were sought by GfK expressed similar view about SMEs.

"For the technology consultants that took part in the research, the key change in the landscape of digital technology has been the shift from digital technologies being perceived as ‘support tools’ that assist someone to run a business, to them becoming a necessary and fundamental element of a successful business," GfK said.

"There was a general feeling amongst the consultants that adoption of and engagement with DCTs not only improves a business’s competitive edge, but is critical to their ongoing sustainability and future success, with those who do not ‘adapt’ likely to find themselves edged out of the market."

It added: "The technology consultants felt that, alongside a lack of knowledge and awareness, a key barrier to increased engagement is the short term view SMEs typically have in running their business with regards to costs and finances. This is especially the case for the small sized businesses for which ‘cash flow’ on a short term basis is a key consideration. For this reason, consultants feel that SMEs need to be able to see a clear return on investment before considering adopting a new DCT."

This is where SME focussed service providers like Next Telecom can help. With a mission to focus on producing individual solutions for each project and each customer using the very latest technology and supported with personal account management program, they can develop and deliver solutions to give the best possible project outcome in terms of design, manageability, functionality and with a clear return on investment.

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