Konecranes has introduced to Australasia its new Generation C series of lift trucks, which includes the full range from 10-65 ton fork lift trucks, container lift trucks and reach stackers.
The range was first introduced to Europe and North America at CeMAT Hannover 2014, and since then has enjoyed enthusiastic uptake in excess of several 100 units. The Generation C lift trucks are already hard and reliably at work in the European and North American fleets.
The C series lift truck includes a completely new driver’s cabin with first-in-class features to enhance safety, comfort and productivity.
The C series also boasts increased reach stacker lifting performance, an enhanced TRUCONNECT® remote monitoring system and improved engine performance.
The C series is equipped with common platform diesel engines that meet emission legislation levels EU Stage II / EPA Tier 2, EU Stage IIIA / EPA Tier 3, or EU Stage IV / EPA Tier 4f.
These new engines are in general several decibels more silent and can save up to 6% in fuel consumption over previous ones. Most engines can be supplied with a start/stop function to further reduce fuel consumption, typically between 5 – 15%, and to extend the factual engine service life.
The new driver’s cabin offers operators class-leading spaciousness and superior visibility made possible by an even more ergonomic layout with integrated seat-mounted controls.
The industry’s first 7” touch screen color display provides full truck monitoring including eco-drive, fuel management and driver login. The touch screen monitor also supports an optional integrated rear-view camera and tire pressure monitoring. The efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system offers a 50% overall capacity improvement.
Patrik Lundbäck, Regional Sales & Service Director of the APAC Region, says “The Generation C lift truck is a collection of refinements and bold new technologies that improve our lift trucks in ways that make them safer, cleaner, quicker and more cost effective. We are very happy to be the first region outside of Europe and North America to launch the Generation C.”
Zebra has released technology designed to enhance productivity in the Australian manufacturing and transport and logistics sectors.
The new Windows 10-ready VC80 is said to virtually extend any PC-based application to material-handling vehicle operators who require mobile access to desktop applications.
Manufacturers, distributors, and transport and logistics (T&L) organisations can use the VC80’s wireless capabilities to seamlessly connect to the host system while roaming, enabling receiving, picking, packing, shipping, cross-dock and replenishment applications.
This combination of features allows organisations to run their businesses more efficiently by connecting mobile workers to back-end systems, providing visibility to floor operations.
The VC80 is claimed to be easy to install on forklifts, clamp trucks, yard trucks and cranes, and is built to operate in the toughest indoor and outdoor environments including warehouses, distribution centres, airports, seaports and railway yards.
The VC80 features the full Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 7 or Windows 7 Professional operating system (OS) and can be used as a stationary computer off a conveyor system, a dock door, or as a mobile workstation kiosk.
With a field-replaceable touch screen and keypad, the VC80 is repairable right on the spot, eliminating trips to the service depot and maximizing device availability.
Optimised for freezer or cold storage environments with its unique system of smart temperature sensors that control heaters for protection against internal and external condensation, the VC80 also includes a heated touch screen to help improve mobile worker productivity and reduce downtime.
Featuring multiple mounting options, including an optional quick-release mount, the VC80 is easy to install and remove, and it’s built to withstand continuous operations in industrial environments providing businesses with greater efficiencies during scheduled and unplanned maintenance.
The VC80 can easily be equipped with a deployment-ready mobile facility to connect to Zebra mobile printers and handheld scanners, enabling businesses to collect business-critical information and print with ease.
Zebra OneCare Essential Services can significantly reduce unforeseen repair expenses for the VC80 by providing device diagnostics and coverage for normal wear and tear, as well as accidental damage to internal and external components.
Crane reliability and efficiency are key considerations for businesses during the forthcoming Christmas-New year maintenance season. The highly competitive nature of industry compels managers to seek out solutions to optimise their time, space, productivity and energy consumption across vital tasks that often must be completed within a narrow window of opportunity that comes once a year.
Such factors – including avoidance of costly downtime – are key considerations across industries such as food and beverage processing, primary processing, production engineering and warehousing, metal fabrication, mining and resources, steel, workshop mechanical maintenance operations
In response to highly competitive times, Konecranes offers a wide diversity of lifting solutions incorporating its CXT wire rope hoists, which are staple lifting devices used widely globally and throughout the Asia-Pacific in maintenance tasks, production lines, engineering industrial warehouses and factories. Their strength, compact size, speed, reliability and safety make them indispensable in assembly workshops where time and space is money.
“CXT wire rope hoist cranes are designed to be industry benchmarks of safety and ergonomics, with easy and effective load handling and optimum dimensions for space saving solutions,” says Mr TK Mak, Industrial Equipment Manager, Konecranes South East Asia Pacific.
“Konecranes CXT wire rope hoist cranes utilise the latest technology for improved load accuracy, versatility and ease of use – making them the industry leader in medium-heavy indoor cranes,” he said.
Key features that contribute to their success include:
Space efficiency – In an industry where floor space utilisation is difficult but vital, the compact design of the CXT allows them to operate closer to the walls, lift loads high and ultimately save valuable space. This enables businesses to optimise their valuable floor space.
Strength – Depending on the model, CXT can lift up to 80 metric tonnes. The new rope reeving system also extends the lifetime of the ropes by as much as 40% – having a significant impact on maintenance costs.
Safety – In an industrial setting, operators must be able to rely on the safe performance of the crane. Konecranes design, manufacture, and assemble all of the key components to ensure a quality wire rope hoist crane. High quality components and precise manufacturing based on years of experience enable enhanced durability of the hoist.
Konecranes’ product development has invested in speeding up and extending hoist operation cycles, and in crane safety and durability. Features that have resulted from this research and development include:
Speed – The latest CXT wire rope hoists are available with adaptive speed ranges which improve productivity and save energy consumption
Adaptive Speed Range (ASR) – a stepless hoisting movement control method. It allows very slow speeds which are important in moment of load lift-off and lowering. It also has the ability to lift up to 50% faster than traditional hoisting control. ASR is typically used in light to medium lifting.
Extended Speed Range (ESR) – this is an extension of the ASR that allows even slower speeds. ESR is typically used in heavy to very heavy lifting. When more performance is needed out of the hoist, ESR is the choice.
Positioning and area control – This feature is designed to assist the operator in positioning the load more efficiently and accurately. This allows the crane’s working area to be adapted to the varying physical layout of individual facilities and production lines.
Crane reliability and efficiency are key considerations for businesses during the forthcoming Christmas-New year maintenance season.
The highly competitive nature of industry compels managers to seek out solutions to optimise their time, space, productivity and energy consumption across vital tasks that often must be completed within a narrow window of opportunity that comes once a year.
Such factors – including avoidance of costly downtime – are key considerations across industries such as food and beverage processing, primary processing, production engineering and warehousing, metal fabrication, mining and resources, steel, workshop mechanical maintenance operations
In response to highly competitive times, Konecranes offers a wide diversity of lifting solutions incorporating its CXT wire rope hoists, which are staple lifting devices used widely globally and throughout the Asia-Pacific in maintenance tasks, production lines, engineering industrial warehouses and factories.
Their strength, compact size, speed, reliability and safety make them indispensable in assembly workshops where time and space is money.
An emerging new “megatrend” is that Australia’s scientists and researchers need to be more innovative, particularly if the country is to play a significant role in the world’s economy.
Megatrends are deep-set trajectories of change that will reshape the landscape for government, business and society over the coming 20 years. They herald both challenge and opportunity.
The term was minted by the American John Naisbitt in his 1982 book, Megatrends. Today megatrends are used by organisations such as CSIRO, KPMG, Boston Consulting Group, Price Waterhouse Coopers, the United States National Intelligence Council and many others.
Back in 2012, at CSIRO we identified six global megatrends that would substantially change the way people live in Australia.
Many of these themes remain but after three years the story is changing. New topics include the rise of artificial intelligence, structural change within the Chinese and East-Asian economies, the era of big data and digital disruption to name a few.
The seventh megatrend
We have identified an additional, seventh megatrend, known as “the innovation imperative”, which I have detailed in a new CSIRO book titled Global Megatrends.
This megatrend argues that Australia and advanced economies are in a tight spot and the only way out involves risk-taking, new ideas and blue-sky scientific research.
Promising areas for such research and development include regenerative and personalised medicine, energy storage, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and informatics. But the innovation imperative cuts across all fields of scientific research and human endeavour.
Why does innovation matter more today? The main reason is that we generated wealth last century by doing some clever things – mostly basic things such as exploiting high grade and easily accessible mineral ore deposits, or opening up new areas of land.
Now we’ve done all the basic things we need to do clever, and very clever, things.
Cowen tells a story of declining productivity because, according to The Economist, the “ideas machine” may have broken down.
Mining for ideas
The fuel source for growth in an advanced economy is no longer land, minerals or water. The fuel source of a modern economy is ideas. That’s because ideas are how industry achieves more output for the same or fewer inputs.
Ideas allow us to light a room with bulbs that have the same luminosity as older technology bulbs but consume less power. Ideas allow us to construct a building with fewer materials, but which perform the same functions. Ideas allow us to make cars, trains and planes that travel faster, cleaner and more safely. In other words ideas allow us to do more with less.
When multiplied across the economy, ideas allow us to increase productivity – the ratio of inputs to outputs in a production process. Productivity is an underlying driver of wealth creation. Productivity improvements ultimately mean we can raise people’s incomes.
Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.
Does this situation apply to Australia? Data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that productivity has experienced a sustained period of strong growth over the latter part of last century and into the beginning of this century.
But at around 2004 it hits a peak. After that it starts to decline. There are some questions about how alarmed we should be about productivity decline and whether it’s a cyclical phenomenon or a sustained slump.
Regardless of how these questions are answered the overwhelming view is that it would be much better for the Australian economy (and people’s incomes) if this graph resumed an upward-sloping trend. And quickly.
And the future looks…?
But the future is not that bleak. At least it doesn’t need to be. Tyler Cowen’s book title ends with the words “… and Will (Eventually) Feel Better”. A return to productivity growth can and will happen in Australia as well.
It will be achieved by a return to deeper innovation. Our rapidly changing world means what was once a bold idea is now mundane. Bold and new ideas will come from fundamental research that helps us understand how physical and social systems operate.
This will allow us to identify radically new and improved ways of manufacturing goods, extracting resources and doing everything industry does better.
That’s the challenge before Australia’s innovation system. We need to dive deeper and push the boundaries of knowledge into new places. As the Chinese economy transitions into an advanced services sector economy, Australia needs to become an advanced-services sector economy.
We need to build new industries connecting to new export markets. The World Economic Forum argues that digital technologies combined with rapid income growth in emerging Asian economies sets the scene for a boom in knowledge and creative industries.
To capture these opportunities Australia needs to breathe new life into our innovation system. To continue to grow our economy and create wealth for future generations we are faced with an imperative to innovate like never before.
Dr Stefan Hajkowicz will be speaking about the megatrends and the innovation imperative at the Australia 2040 Summit at Parliament House in Canberra on May 26, 2015.
Industries heavily dependent on big logistics have well and truly entered the world of big data.
Nearly every aspect of the logistics, from minute processes in manufacture, through to transport and warehousing and maintenance, all activities are measured, tracked, and stored.
ERP software helps to deal with these issues and gain both a granular and wider view of business operations.
However, due to the mass of data that collection generates, the need for systems that can deal with level of data while providing multiple access points such as mobile and web is high.
Many developments in handling big data are coming from the mining industry, which is at the razors edge of the need for efficiency in all aspects of production and transport.
Rio Tinto’s global business services head Scott Singer explained it has had a number of issues with its digital data management, and the need for cloud and web based applications.
“We generate a huge volume of unstructured data and growth rates are expanding significantly,” Singer said, and "like most companies we are not good at 'hitting the delete key'.”
"Like most businesses we don’t have the core expertise to manage this.”
But this problem doesn’t just affect the majors, from explorers through to mid-level miners as well as their suppliers, all face the issue of dealing with multiple complex business processes throughout a multi-tiered system, with much of it now occurring over many sites all interlinked over the internet.
Dealing with all these factors can cost a business dearly if it not ready or able to adapt to the changing nature of the market.
According to Sage Business Solutions managing director Mike Lorge a recent study carried out by Sage in Europe and North America showed “midmarket companies with improved data accessibility, quality, intelligence, and usability can expect approximately 35 per cent more incremental revenue year over year than lower-performing companies
Sage Business Solutions has recently launched its latest iteration of its SAGE ERP X3 software – version 7 – which “brings flexibility and an entirely redesigned web and mobile experience, giving all employees the information they need wherever they are,” Sage stated, with Lorge adding
Importantly, the program has scalability allowing the response to grow or contract as work progresses, giving businesses more options as they develop projects or wind down certain operations.
Lorge explained: “As companies grow they can lose agility and profitable growth; Sage’s ERP X3 version 7 provides the tools to simplify and speed up the use of information to revive this growth.”
“The primary focus of developing the new version – which is focused predominately on the mid-market space- was integrating next gen user interfaces; making it web based and device agnostic, and really using the BYOD trend, as we see more consumer trends entering the business software world,” Lorge said.
The new X3 system provides a next generation alternative to Excel spreadsheet systems that many workplaces still use, with the program featuring embedded workflow, integrated businesses intelligence, easy-to-use dashboards, and device independent reporting, which allows for remote access and a BYOD style of operation as well as on site and in the field applications, as it can be used with iOS, Windows phones and most Android devices.
It also allows for global management capabilities, giving operations with multiple sites or global offices, greater integration of workflows.
The software has already been picked up by project and engineering design firm Saitec Australia, which is integrating ERP X3 throughout its business, into its analysis and reporting, financial accounting and management control, and operational management in areas such as production, purchasing, sales, and inventory.
Importantly, it also gives added support in terms of traceability and tracking of compliance and controls, helping businesses to ensure their entire supply chain from start to finish complies to regulations.
Sage Business senior vice president for AAMEA, Keith Fenner, told Australian Mining the new ERP provides a lot of flexibility for businesses.
“For instance, the agility it allows for operators in monitoring and controlling their stocks. As it has an overview of the many different facets of an operation the system can scrape sales, purchasing, and stock information, showing an increased sale of certain parts, compare that against existing stock levels, and that present this upcoming inventory issue,” Fenner said.
“One major miner has adopted it and within 30 days of using X3 for inventory administration they freed up a number of efficiencies, and had a greater visibility as well as better stock/procurement management. On top of this it brought in the concepts of seasonality to their supply chain and provided forecasts for likely demand, which was all based off of existing stock plans.
“These operators are able to now get a granular analysis using X3 version 7, using big data,” he said.
“While most companies can’t change their cost base for operations, with greater visibility they can address efficiency issues and help with stock and IT management.”
This also allows for more predictive, rather than reactive, business decisions and actions.
Lorge added that the latest version of X3 is building the foundation for greater visibility and the ongoing convergence in IT and operational technology currently being seen in Australian industry.
“If you don’t have the right architecture in ERP then your business will find it more difficult to keep up with the changes in compliance and regulation and efficiency developments, you need to get it right at this level otherwise it will add unnecessary cost and delays to operations.
More than 200 people attended the event, held on the Gold Coast, with the majority of attendees made up of users of Honeywell technology from across Australia.
Today was used by customers to hold sessions demonstrating their use of Honeywell technology on their sites, and how they implemented it.
Productivity and efficiency gains were the main focus for the presentations.
The company itself used the event as a launchpad for a number of new releases, such as the oil and gas productivity and safety software suites and the Experion Orion console released on the first day of the event, officially launching its universal cabinets for its universal input/output (I/O) modules today.
According to the company the “universal I/O modules allow operators to quickly and remotely configure channels as analog or digital I/O using Honeywell’s proprietary Universal Channel Technology software”.
“The Universal Cabinets incorporate Universal I/O modules and make the entire cabinet a standard part which can play a key role in on-time start-ups by removing I/O from the critical path. This can help project managers to reduce the impact of changes on automation project schedules, especially late in a project cycle.”
Honeywell’s Lean Execution of Automation Projects (LEAP) processes were also highlighted during the show.
LEAP is “a new methodology and philosophy in project execution,” the company stated.
It uses cloud engineering and virtualisation methods to aid companies in implementing process solutions into their projects.
By using a cloud approach to engineering design “it decouples the software and the hardware, so they can be produced in parallel with one another, as opposed to sequentially, shifting formerly backend processes to the frontend,” Honeywell said today.
In spite of the current market conditions in mining, the mood was overall positive at the event.
“Despite the market being down, people have all been very positive here,” Honeywell director sales – Pacific, Neil Wold, told Australian Mining.
“In fact the turn out was even better than last year,” he said.
Regarding the customer sessions held earlier in the day, Wold stated that it was one of his favourite parts of HUG, as “it’s always exciting to see how our technology is being used”.
According to Tony McDonald, Sandvik’s area manager north – service, the facility is designed to deliver high levels of
service, as well as environmental, health and safety performance to Central
Queensland mining operations.
It incorporates a high-tech repair and rebuild
facility, including a paint booth, as well as a large parts warehouse operation.
McDonald said the facility as well as its processes have been upgraded and streamlined to improve its service to the region’s mines, as well as enhance safety performance in line with Sandvik’s requirements.
“Our Mackay Productivity Centre – as one of four of
these centres nationally – sets new standards for safety and environmental
performance, service efficiency and turnaround times for our Central Queensland
“The Sandvik Productivity Centre concept has been
designed with one purpose: to align with our customers’ goals and boost their
productivity,” he said.
He went on to say a major focus has been on time and waste.
As part of this upgrade it has also opened a number of dedicated field support centres throughout north and central Queensland, located in Emerald, Townsville, and Mt Isa, bringing the total number of Sandvik employees to 122 in the region.
AUSTRALIA 2025: How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, we’re asking how each science discipline will contribute to Australia now and in the future. Written by luminaries and accompanied by two expert commentaries to ensure a broader perspective, these articles run fortnightly and focus on each of the major scientific areas. This instalment takes a look at ICT’s role.
It’s finally dawning on private and public sectors that information and communications technology (ICT) is an enabling technology. ICT is relevant to companies – whether making drugs, mining coal, building a bridge or providing banking services – and government agencies, such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), operators of an urban railway systems and (obviously) Social Security and Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DTSO).
One or two decades ago, it was common for casual commentary to suggest that Australia had missed the ICT bus:
ICT multinationals, almost all foreign-owned, generally weren’t interested in doing more than selling in Australia
ICT-based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) faced the usual challenges impacting all SMEs, and the additional one – their ICT specialist R&D staff were less qualified on average than R&D staff across other disciplines
CSIRO was perceived – perhaps unfairly – as not having significant impact in the area
international rankings of Australian computer science publication citations showed us a long way behind even the world average.
These days, public perceptions of ICT’s importance are far more developed. Almost every day, we interact with a supermarket scanner, we check our email, we pass under a motorway toll point, we download our power bill or we check what our friends on Facebook are doing.
There is Australian software in more than a billion mobile phones worldwide. And while just a small fraction of those phones are in Australia, there are certainly enough that the community at large appreciates the transformational power of ICT and how pervasive it is, even if it is often behind the scenes.
Our everyday lives are going to be affected in an extraordinary number of ways, most involving the coupling of ICT ideas with technologies with which we are familiar. Likely scenarios include:
instead of swallowing pills or receiving injections, devices in our body may administer drugs automatically, at times and dosage levels tuned to our body’s requirements
firemen will be equipped with micro airborne vehicles to search a burning building for survivors
all road vehicles will be fitted with sensors and devices to communicate with other vehicles and roadside infrastructure, to lessen collisions, and to reduce congestion through the provision of real-time advice; in due course, traffic densities on freeways will be increased through automated control of vehicles
the ATO website will accept queries on curly tax issues and provide an answer via an automated service which the taxpayer can rely on in meeting his or her tax obligations
partial sight will be restored through a bionic eye to people who have become blind through diseases such as macular degeneration (see video below)
people will improve their qualifications through enrolment in massive open online courses (MOOCs), receiving a grade after automated processing of their assignments and examination papers
many farm fences will be eliminated; farm animals will be provided with sensors designed to localise the animal’s position and deliver an electric shock when it strays from a defined region
people will discuss contracts with a non-English-fluent Korean businessman using a two-way, unobtrusive real-time translation phone app, or via an add-on to a three-dimensional Skype system
robot floor cleaners in the home will be as fast and as efficient as vacuum cleaners pushed by a human.
This list highlights the pervasiveness of ICT applications, and no doubt countless more examples can be advanced. Almost everyone would agree too that we would be better off with such advances (though with qualifications with issues such as privacy and security). So what is involved in getting there?
A passive approach is to imagine that using money earned from trade in agriculture or mining or education, we could simply buy tasty ICT morsels catching our fancy in the international market. But this won’t work.
We must have ICT skills: if we don’t, not only do we miss out on the pots of gold associated with the different business opportunities, but we will be ill-informed purchasers of sophisticated products.
If buying internationally, we could be as much victims of a ruthless vendor as the Icelandic bankers who purchased foreign financial products that ruined their country in 2008. Imagine trying to decide what is the best technology or technologies for an NBN with little or no expertise.
The required human capital clearly must come from universities, and will only be up-to-date if the universities have adequately resourced staff of international standard.
Three simple steps to maximise ICT talent
First, it needs to be very easy for ICT researchers to collaborate with researchers in other disciplines; so many future applications will rest on a further disciplinary pillar besides ICT, precisely because it is an enabling technology.
Of course, institutional players such as the universities and the Australian Research Council (ARC) will sign on to this proposition, but giving effect to it can be still very challenging.
Fundamentally, prestige for an academic grounded in his or her achievements is generally seen as easier to attain when a single discipline is involved. Those crossing two (or more) disciplines are more likely to be considered as not making it well in either rather than achieving a high standard in more than one discipline.
Then there’s the question of money: if discipline-based panels allocate research funds, such researchers can lose out.
The second qualification is that the route to commercialisation of ideas needs to be straightforward.
In the ICT area commercialisation has been hugely assisted by the creation in 2002 of NICTA. This organisation has provided a bridge not only between its own researchers and the commercial world (including business creation with start-ups) but also between affiliated ICT researchers in universities and the commercial world.
Commercialisation is less the core business of universities than it is of NICTA, and most universities have less depth of ICT-relevant commercialisation skill set than NICTA has.
A third requirement is that it must be possible to pursue large-scale research ideas with public sector finance. With the limited exceptions provided by Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) or ARC centres and defence-oriented work in DSTO, CSIRO and NICTA are probably the only examples.
A healthy coupling of the university sector to the commercial world is certainly not the whole story. That coupling needs to be grounded in a solid disciplinary base where the individuals can match it with the best in the world.
Specialists are needed in subdisciplines such as cyber security, machine learning, computer and communication networking, large scale and distributed systems, mobile communications and computing and big data, to name a few.
But without our ICT experts, we’ll be left behind the wayside – and catching up will be more difficult than ever.
David Glance, Associate Professor at the University of Western Australia
It is easy to confuse Australia’s passion for being users of the latest technology with a passion to be involved in creating them.
In fact, as the US continues to see a rise in enrolments in computer science degrees, Australia has seen a continuous decline.
It is not that Australians are less bright or resourceful or less hard working. It is not even a tyranny of distance because if there is one thing you can do remotely, it is develop and sell technology, especially software.
No – it may simply be the fact that on the whole, Australians are just not interested in developing ICT.
This is not a particular problem in a globalised world in which the ways of doing things in Australia are not that different to how things are done in the US or in Europe.
We can possibly rely on others to produce the technologies that we will need to drive a growing economy past the mining phase.
What will be vital as a minimum, though, will be the ability and desire to utilise ICT to support innovation in everything else that we actually do.
So even if being a primary provider of ICT is not in Australia’s future, being expert at using them will be.
ICT has been a great driver for change over the past 10 years – and, as illustrated by Brian’s examples above, it is sure to continue being one of the most important drivers over the next decade.
So let’s not forget the immense environmental, societal as well as economic pressures that are building across the globe.
Australia, the lucky country, has escaped many of the troubles so far, but our luck can only last so long, and ICT is one of the few hopes we have to mitigate the problems that lie ahead.
We already work closely with our mathematician colleagues to develop equations to help government and business optimise their activities, and do more with less. It’s computers that ultimately solve these problems.
As the recent debate over tax bills of multinationals demonstrate, nations must produce – not consume – intellectual property in the ICT space to reap the rewards.
Take Google, for example. Google sits on around US$60 billion – not bad for a company founded on the back of a computer algorithm. But those rewards don’t go to the users of Google. They flow back to the producers.
For this reason, Australia must produce ICT to ride the coming wave of change.
Brian Anderson receives research funding from the Australian Research Council and National ICT Australia (NICTA). He works for the Australian National University. He owns shares in a number of companies which will benefit by the increased adoption of information and communications technology.
Toby Walsh’s research is supported by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Australian Research Council and the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development through grants AOARD-104123 and AOARD-124056.
David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Most companies that live and breathe the online revolution are not tech startups, but smart smaller firms that use online tools to run their core business better: to cut costs, reach customers and suppliers, innovate and get more control. Many others, however, are falling behind, according to a new Grattan Institute discussion paper.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (those with less than 200 employees) employ two-thirds of private sector workers and contribute more than half of Australia’s private sector GDP. If advanced online technology becomes the norm among SMEs, the productivity gains will spread through the whole economy.
There are four big opportunities: mobile, social, data analytics, and the cloud
The online toolset is far broader than just having a website customers can find through a search engine. Firms need to explore and exploit four online toolsets to stay relevant: the cloud; social; mobile; and data analytics.
First: mobile. Customers are shopping from the tram. Potential hires are looking for jobs from the train. A small business owner can run their firm from a mobile device. Yet only 18% of Australian SMEs with an internet connection have developed mobile-optimised websites.
Second: social. Customers, suppliers and employees are talking online. They expect companies to be part of the conversation: many already are. Yet only a quarter of Australian SMEs with an internet connection say they use social networking for marketing purposes.
Third: data analytics. Tools for capturing and exploiting data are much easier to use than in the past. They let business owners learn about their firm’s performance and their environment: which customer segments are buying and which channels do they buy through? What parts of your business are paying their way?
Fourth, the cloud: you can now access essentially any IT service, on demand, over a network. Applications like file management, web search, email, and spreadsheets can all be managed over the web. Few Australian SME managers use the term “cloud computing”: only 8% say they use the cloud. But 47% of SMEs with an internet connection use basic cloud computing services such as webmail or cloud data storage.
The cloud offers more than these basics. It makes enterprise IT capabilities available to small firms. It offers new capabilities: you can collaborate in new ways and create new services. And it offers “cheap and ubiquitous building blocks” for new services.
All four opportunities can help small firms win where before they would have lost to larger firms that could absorb the fixed costs of corporate IT.
Firms that adopt new online tools fast are also faster growing, more profitable, generate more jobs, and they innovate and export more. The causation goes both ways – firms with growth opportunities find advanced tools more valuable – but the tools clearly help firms to capture opportunities.
Why are some are firms slow to get on board?
Yet SMEs in Australia are far from universally adopting new online tools. About 60%) of SMEs have low or very low digital engagement (that is, at most only have a website and do some social media). Opportunities do vary by sector: SMEs in business services, retail and hospitality are strong adopters, while farmers and builders use online tools less.
But the biggest constraints are awareness and skills. About 60% of SMEs say they they do not have the skills to make the most of online services.
Some firms are also concerned about data security, privacy, and being locked in to an online provider. Some concerns may be allayed as firms become better informed. Indeed, some firms cite the improved security that large, specialist online providers make available as one reason for choosing to use cloud services.
The path forward
Government and industry can help smaller firms wring more productivity from online tools.
First, if government promotes broader productivity growth and innovation, it can support the adoption of online tools indirectly. Free trade can increase domestic productivity through competitive pressure and broader market access. Foreign direct investment and skilled migration can also make local firms and workers more productive.
Second, online should be the default for interacting with government. Government portals like business.gov.au and myGov.gov.au can drive adoption more broadly if they are done well. Government, as a user of cloud services, can demonstrate their value. And government can support the development of trust in online services, as through its recent “Cloud computing regulatory stocktake”.
Third, government should get policy settings right for cost-effective broadband networks. Reliable, high bandwidth, symmetric networks and international capacity are needed. Some small businesses say they use mobile networks as a backup during business peak times. Some move just to get access to better networks.
Awareness and skills are important, but government can largely let the private sector lead in helping SMEs improve skills and digital literacy. Online service providers educate SMEs as they develop their markets. Industry associations can help reach the SME community.
When a firm becomes more efficient, the owners of that firm benefit most. When many firms become more efficient, customers benefit, because firms compete.
This work is part of Grattan Institute’s Spreading Smart Ideas series to identify policy reform opportunities to accelerate the spread of innovation. The series is made possible with the support of Google.