The business case for digital stimulus in a COVID-19 world

In response to the viral pandemic that’s turned the world on its head, the Australian Government has opened its purse strings to support businesses and individuals in a variety of different ways. Big-ticket items have so far included JobKeeper payments to help businesses retain employees, free childcare, rent assistance, and support for distance education.

Yet, despite this massive spending push, there’s one area yet to attract the attention of our lawmakers. It has the potential to support tens of thousands of small businesses and better position them for recovery once things are back to normal.

Supporting digital transformation

With restrictions and lockdowns in place across the country, it’s becoming increasingly clear that small businesses without an effective digital presence are struggling. If you’re unable to display your wares online or take orders and schedule deliveries via a mobile app, revenues are likely to have plunged.

This is where government support for small businesses should be focused. By providing funding for digital transformation activities, firms will receive a short-term boost as well as longer-term benefits.

Think about that local burger store you frequent because of its innovative menu. Or perhaps it’s a small, specialist bookstore that stocks niche items you can’t find anywhere else. Giving these businesses a digital transformation boost will enable them to compete on a much more level playing field with the likes of McDonald’s and Amazon.

Practical steps

As businesses strive to stay afloat and look forward to conditions improving, there are some practical ways in which the Australian Government could deliver digital assistance and support. They include:

  • Extend tax deductions: The Government has already increased the instant write-off threshold for businesses investing in new assets from $30,000 to $150,000 until July 30. These write-offs should be extended to cover digital assets, like building a new website or setting up a payments platform. Such a move would help businesses quickly improve their online presence and capture new market share.
  • Fund mobile app development: With an ever-increasing proportion of online commerce conducted via mobile devices, not having an easy-to-use app puts a business at a competitive disadvantage. Providing funding to support the rapid development of mobile apps is a practical step that would deliver an instant boost to business activity.
  • Develop tech packages: Many smaller businesses may lack the knowledge and skills needed to propel themselves into the digital world. The Government could partner with a group of IT vendors to create a specially designed SME technology package.
    Group members could include a web design company, an internet hosting provider, a telco carrier, and a payments platform operator. Combining these components into a ready-made package would make it significantly easier for businesses without a digital presence to take the plunge.
  • Conduct online training sessions: Many Australian small business owners are experiencing a quieter period due to the lock-down regulations in place across the country. Online training courses designed specifically for this audience could be created and made available as a business resource to be consumed while owners have some free time. The courses could cover introductory topics such as website design and establishment as well as more complex subjects like search engine optimisation and configuring payment gateways.

It’s clear that government stimulus is going to be a vital part of the nation’s response to COVID-19. By ensuring that a portion of this money is directed to helping small businesses improve their digital presence and processes, both immediate and long-term benefits will result.

Once the nation moves through the pandemic and associated fiscal strife, the small businesses that power our economy will then be far better placed to kick back into full activity.

Tim Sheedy, Principal Advisor, Ecosystm

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