Earlier this week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Economic Development Australia (EDA) Conference in Cairns, Queenland. The conference was attended by over 200 business and government practitioners who are involved in shaping the respective regional business centres in Australia and New Zealand towards economic leadership in what has been dubbed, the ‘Asian century’.
This topic was discussed during a number of sessions that covered the economic opportunities and challenges across Asia Pacific. My talk centered on ‘Rebooting Business’ and I engaged other members of my speaking panel and the audience to opine on digital enablement, paperless workflows, collaboration, mobility and cloud computing.
There were interesting predictions about shifts in our workplace paradigm from large cities to more regional and communal work hubs. Michael Shuman, Director of Research for Cutting Edge Capital in the US, even suggested that the next 10 years would see one of the biggest shifts in capital from global companies to “localism” – the notion of a resurgence in regional and community based businesses and sustainable non cities. So the outlook is potentially very positive for small and regionally based business. There was also acknowledgement that technology would be a key factor in enabling this shift.
On this subject, Frank Verner of Gravel Road, a boutique business and technology project consultancy firm, implored government and policy makers to seek ways to accelerate the uptake of digital capability by small businesses. In his view, small businesses have been burnt by the over-promise and under-delivery that information technology has delivered in the past. “IT has a bad name, but the shift from on-premise to the cloud dramatically simplifies the adoption and use of technology, so we need to get SMEs back to the table. We need to drive digital awareness and adoption”. He called on local governments and policy makers to invest in programs that promote digital literacy. “We need to find ways for the technology suppliers, local industry and local government to come together and drive uptake. NBN will take 10 years to rollout so we need a range of mid-term approaches”. From what I could gather from the questions and discussion that followed, many of the conference attendees were in strong agreement with this sentiment.
I was honored to present to and meet the big names that were at the conference, which included Simon Crean MP, Minister for Regional Australia, Development and Local Government, the former prime minister of New Zealand Jim Bolger, Dr Keith Suter, well known economic and political commentator and member of the exclusive Rome Club, and Michael Schuman, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. There were numerous other speakers adding to some vibrant discussion and debate about the future economic prosperity for ANZ in the region.
I left the forum feeling comforted by the observation that many of the attendees at the conference accept the huge productivity benefits of technology, and in particular, cloud computing. That’s a good first step. Now to see action from government … and perhaps the greatest takeaway for me was that it is in fact local government who are in the best position to achieve this. They have the community and business connections to address digital literacy and to develop programs that can lead SMEs into this new era of technology. Or perhaps you have other suggestions on how Australia can achieve this.