Helping regional businesses embrace the digital economy
As the NBN rolls out across the continent and Australia’s regions reach an unprecedented level of connectivity, there can be a tendency to assume that the mere presence of broadband will dramatically improve the way regional businesses operate.
While this potential certainly exists, if regional businesses are going to take advantage of growing access to new technologies they will need more than just an internet connection – they will need local service providers who can help them to understand and adapt this to their specific needs.
Mapping the presence of internet and broadband connectivity in regional areas against the levels of knowledge to support it, the Regional Australia Institute’s (RAI) newly released regional competitiveness index, [In]Sight, reveals some serious gaps.
For example, Narrogin in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia ranks 156 of 560 Local Government Areas in terms of internet connections, a ‘highly competitive’ result, but has one of the lowest presences of an ICT or electronics workforce in the country.
Chief Executive Officer of the RAI Su McCluskey says that it’s not enough to simply supply communities with better access and faster download speeds – there has to be the knowledge in the area of how to harness and grow with it, or risk wasted opportunities for innovation.
Speaking at a forum staged by the Global Foundation in Melbourne this Thursday (1 August), ‘Achieving breakthrough for the digital economy’, Ms McCluskey will be examining what challenges exist for small to medium business enterprises making the transition.
“Through [In]Sight, we now have the advantage of knowing not just where broadband is available, but how technologically ready our regions are”, Ms McCluskey said. “This enables us to identify where we need to stimulate the development of the commercial sector and drive innovation.”
This is already being rolled out in regional areas in the grains industry, where information services units are running education and training events, working one-on-one with farmers to negotiate the ins and outs of connectivity.
Assisting businesses in building a website, tapping commodity prices online, keeping farm records via portable devices while out and about – these units are helping farmers make the most of their new connectivity and points to the potential of localised ICT industries to thrive in the changing technological environment.
“[In]Sight reveals that metropolitan areas well and truly out-strip their regional cousins in terms of ICT support services, and regions closer to the larger centres are next in line”, Ms McCluskey said. “To keep up, rural and remote communities are going to need the services infrastructure in place to capitalise on their improving technological readiness.”