Long before the government announced the National Innovation & Science Agenda, small businesses have been at the heart of innovation, not for glamour or recognition, but out of necessity. Since time began, small businesses have been developing creative solutions to ensure their businesses are equipped to run as smoothly as possible.
One such innovation was patented in 1881, when William Stickney Lamson of Lowell, Massachusetts, patented the cash railway. Not dissimilar to the pneumatic tube system, the cash railway was a common feature of department stores, a pulley – which is connected to overhead wires – ferrying cash from sales assistants to cashiers, theoretically eliminating room for error in cash management.
In its time, this system was a huge technological advancement for the retail industry, changing the way people in the industry worked – and using machines in place of people. It is likely many were daunted by it, even fearful, not unlike what we see now with technology, automation and AI being prominent in the small business landscape.
The need to adapt to new technology is a constant
Fast forward 136 years, and the innovations may look different, but one constant remains – the need to use the latest technology to streamline the way that we want – and need – to work.
For 22-year-old entrepreneur Adam Stone, founder of freelance platform Speedlancer, the latest advancements come from harnessing modern technology.
“Platforms like Speedlancer are making it easy to source and work with the best talent. It just makes sense to begin integrating freelancers as core parts of a company’s processes,” Stone says.
And he’s not wrong. According to University of Technology Sydney, as of last year more than 4.1 million Australians contributed to the booming freelance economy enabled, in part, by platforms such as Etsy, Uber and Airbnb making freelancing an easy prospect for the uninitiated.
“More and more of the workforce are opening up to the idea of freelance and/or flexible work,” Stone says.
“I think as more of the workforce begins to see the advantages … the companies will follow suit and not want to risk missing out.”
Stone says the power technology brings will ensure workers are unlimited by location and demographic.
This, he says, will encourage higher diversity which brings in new ways of thinking, and will break down many of the stereotypes of the workplace.
“What is becoming a relic of the past is the speed at which work gets done, and the difficulty of companies finding and collaborating with highly skilled/specific-skill-set freelancers.”
“Whereas before a company would have to slow down a project to bring on freelancers, now in many ways their projects will get done in record speed and in much more dynamic and innovative ways.”
Challenging long-held traditions
Conrad Tracey, chief operating officer of Inspire9 – a community coworking space for startups – is another challenging the traditional model of working. He believes the growing coworking environment helps small businesses scale their ideas in an innovative and efficient way.
“We like to think that we represent the new era of Australian jobs, innovation and community,” Tracey says.
“The work that’s happening in our VR and AR lab in Footscray is really groundbreaking. Our residents are helping rebuild and design state and federal infrastructure and are solving medical rehabilitation and training issues.”
“I feel like the advent of AI in industry will get people thinking more creatively and exploring their passions rather than doing task related work.”
The cash railway system – one of which currently collects dust in Hattams on Glenhuntly Road in Melbourne – reminds us that the the only difference between innovation and antiquity is time.
“Once the cash register became popular everyone got rid of them,” owner Ian Hattam says.
“If you keep something long enough, it becomes an antique.” And perhaps that’s the way the traditional nine-to-five full-time workforce is headed.
AGL is dedicated to supporting Australian small businesses. We have a number of packages that can be tailored to your business’ specific needs. Visit us at agl.com.au/business to find out more.