SMEs charting innovative course to the future

Australia’s small businesses are at the forefront of developing and adopting digital technologies. With proper public and private support, they will lead the transformation to a digital economy.

SMEs are the backbone of our economy, making up 99.8 per cent of all Australian businesses. As a sector, they provide the single most important lever for growth – creating employment opportunities.

As such, they will play a key role in transforming our country into a leading digital economy by 2030, ensuring that we remain globally competitive. If Australia is to accomplish this, and become independently sustainable, our SME-led economy needs to foster an innovation ecosystem that can generate new ideas.

“Today, the digital economy is worth $126 billion and SMEs are driving that growth.”

Over the past two years, the pandemic has highlighted the role that innovation technology can play in solving problems, creating opportunities, and generating wealth. SMEs can harness the power of technology to lead innovation, especially as our economy and borders begin to reopen. The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), for its part, is helping to build domestic capabilities in cyber-security, digital twin technology, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other technologies, but we need additional support from government.

SMEs are already taking steps to transform their businesses, with 63 per cent now shifting towards digital operations they say will benefit their businesses in the long term, new research from Salesforce has found. Today, the digital economy is worth $126 billion and SMEs are driving that growth.

As another lever to build domestic capability and capacity, the AIIA is working on several programs to help Australians develop skills. We are facing skills shortages and more must be done to ensure our workforce has the right capabilities to take us into this next growth stage. In conjunction with universities and TAFEs across Australia through the AIIA Skills Hub, we are working to educate and upskill our workforce to support the growth of our economy. Government must help provide the right grants and incentives to ensure that Australian innovation is supported and remains in Australia.

Information and communications technology is embedded into all our primary industries, such as healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing. Every implementation to address issues within these industries has innovation technology at its core. The AIIA is urging the Federal Government to accelerate the digitalisation of Australian industry. Our latest white paper, Growing globally competitive industries: powered by Australia’s innovation technology, provides almost 80 recommendations to government for investing in our core and strategic industries to remain competitive globally.

One of our key recommendations is for the Federal Government to establish a Made in Australia Office. Recently, the AIIA welcomed Labor’s announcement that it planned to establish a Future Made in Australia Office to ensure that significant commonwealth procurements not only lead to an uplift in domestic capability but also provide a boost to SMEs, which often find it difficult to win government procurements.

Digitalisation, innovation, and start-ups are all key parts of these proposed Made in Australian Industry Plans. We will continue to support policies that promote the growth of the local tech sector, which we know will provide significant employment opportunities and strong economic growth.

The transformative opportunity that technology provides is now undeniable. We must continue to focus on building a resilient, flexible, and future-focused Australia that maximises the opportunity that technological advancement is providing and places SMEs at its core.

This article first appeared in issue 35 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine