Australia could catch up with Northern Ireland’s small-business revolution within a decade.
Fast broadband’s promise
Proposals to improve Australia’s broadband network – either by building the new, independent network proposed by Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, or the more limited city, then regional plan put forward by Communications Minister Helen Coonan – could mean every Australian home and small business could be wired into the world.
Rudd has forced the entire community to recognise that information and communication technologies (ICT) cannot be delayed until the market is ready to take up the responsibilities of creating a national system. And that it is not good enough to have system that is OK for the affluent in the capital cities and leaves the rest of the nation praying for an end to the physical and the information drought.
Elsewhere in the world it has long been recognised that high-speed broadband access at reasonable prices for both uploading and downloading provides an essential platform for economic development, small business formation and job creation.
In a broadband world, business is open 24/365, doesn’t need multiple lines for different parts of their business operations, can communicate with VoIP, can manage supply and ordering at the click of a mouse, does not face conflicts and delays in international financial funds transfers and payment systems, and can work at home, in the shop or office or even on the golf course via 3G networks.
Just a few of the integrated systems that become affordable as part of an integrated small business network include:
- Fast effective websites.
- Business co-operatives.
- Buying groups.
- Online ordering.
- Purchase and billing systems.
- Electronic tendering.
- Reduced travel and trading costs allowing increased productivity through reduced staff, overheads, market research and regulatory interference
At present, research conducted by the Roy Morgan Research Centre shows how far we have lost the plot while we went through more than a dozen attempts to monster Telstra into agreeing to give a free ride to its competitors.
In the UK seven out of 10 small-business owners have access to high-speed broadband resources and nine out of 10 have internet connections to their home for home-based businesses. In the US, half of the small-business owners have high-speed broadband access and eight out of 10 have internet access for their home-based businesses.
In Australia we have less than one in 10 able to afford leased high-speed broadband and less than 10% having internet supports for their home business.
In Northern Ireland 100% of the population has high-speed broadband for both home and business because its government recognised that this was necessary to give their nation a comparative advantage.
As Terry McCrann said in the Weekend Australian on March 24: “It appears disturbingly that the Government’s lazy incompetence has already passed up the chance for some creative investment.”
What does this mean for small business??
We can best learn about the future by looking at what is already happening in Northern Ireland, where total national coverage of high-speed broadband is giving it a competitive edge over the Republic of Ireland.
Every small business has access to faster and cheaper web-surfing for business opportunities, instant order and confirmation email systems, quicker business transactions and access to comparative pricing, reliable software that is nationally linked to suppliers and consumers and an end to frustrating dial-up and fragmented service coverage.
What was previously the preserve of only the large companies and the affluent business owner is now instantly accessible by start-ups and home-based businesses alike.
The costs that apply for everyday business can be dramatically reduced in an Australia held hostage for the release of high-speed broadband by the national monopoly player and a recalcitrant government’s regulatory body.
We are faced with a disjointed, fragmented information system with variable access, variable IT suppliers, conflicting technologies, slow speed of support and arrogant technical support from some providers.
Australia remains at the bottom of the pile of sophisticated business communication systems until we demand better and expect to get what is already available in Northern Ireland today at a fraction of the cost of almost any one of the separate services
No more hours spent fighting the telephone computer substitutes for human service, separate on-line ordering systems tied to individual financial institutions, separate systems for stock control and accounting records and another for customer relationship marketing and management
It comes down to this: any business, no matter what its size, has regular communication with homes, business and government contacts (B2B, B2C and B2G become blurred into one reality) at 40 times the speed we can do in Australia and at a fraction of the cost.
Suppliers, marketers and distributors all share the one system with common definitions, product and service images and direct interaction on contracts and fulfilment. Anytime that a customer – even from the other side of the globe in a different time zone – makes an enquiry or places an order, it gets sorted, sent and billed without the hassle of many call charges, software clashes or credit identity delays.
Efficient information age infrastructures enable small business to compete on a global basis and make direct contact with enterprise around the world, wherever high-speed broadband enables more efficient data processing, banking, insurance, management and technical consulting, travel planning, business logistics and customer relations management.
The results are already in for countries such as Ireland, Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, Hong Kong, Korea, the Netherlands and Canada, to name but a handful of countries that have seen the potential for new growth opportunities to be gained from commitment to an entry to the 21st century
As Rob Frieden from Penn State University states in his study of lessons to be learned from Broadband Development in Canada, Japan and Korea: “The acquisition of comparative advantages in ICT development appears impossible without some degree of government involvement.
“No matter how attractive ‘blue sky’ technologies appear on the horizon, governments may need to jump-start new technology adoption and thereby accelerate the accrual of a critical mass needed to achieve scale economies and the ability to offer serves at rates a mass market will support.”
Trevor Young at sparkimpact.com.au writes: Good article, and certainly adds fuel to the frustration many businesses large and small have with a government that has proven time and time again that breath-taking vision and bold ideas are not exactly its forte.
It’s not as if the digital revolution has sneaked up on us. As a small country, home to some tremendously creative & entrepreneurial citizens, imagine what we could do on a global and domestic stage if we had access to a broadband infrastructure that’s 40 times faster than what we have today (and at a fraction of the cost, as you write).
As any AFL coach will tell you, playing “catch-up footy” is bloody hard. Better to lead from the front!