Business and Enterprise | Small Business |

Why the digitisation of Small Business is now urgent – not just important

By Michael Ackland July 31, 2020

If COVID-19 taught us anything, it has been how to rapidly respond to change. With online spending skyrocketing in recent months, Australia’s small-to-medium businesses must respond to this change in customer behaviour in order to take advantage of the ‘new normal’.

The COVID inflection point for digitisation

Make no mistake: Australian businesses in all shapes and sizes are at an inflection point, with the data telling a truly remarkable story. Unemployment has risen rapidly, and 1 in 10 small to medium businesses are no longer trading due to COVID-19. Those that have survived are reporting serious concerns, with 80 per cent of small to medium businesses expecting adverse impacts to their operations in the next two months.

Small business owners have always told us that one of the biggest barriers to getting their operations online was the time required. Owner-operators are typically so invested in doing the day to day that they don’t have the time to digitise their business. But now that COVID-19 has driven legions of shoppers online, driving a digital strategy for small business is not just important – it’s urgent. Especially considering we’re seeing Australian consumers actively looking to support local businesses in their area.

New data from Venture Insights indicates that 70 per cent of Australian consumers now consciously support local businesses, but many indicate that they are hamstrung by a lack of online presence. Businesses that go digital also reap near-immediate rewards, with our research showing that boosted technology spending leads to revenue that is three times faster than those who don’t invest in technology.

There are clearly huge opportunities for small to medium businesses in Australia to go digital during this time.

Driving digitisation

To capture these post-COVID consumer dollars, businesses must seize the opportunity of e-commerce as much as possible because those that have adapted well have put technology right at the centre of their business.

Businesses that have managed to rapidly digitise during lockdown have told us that tech and telecom services are now more important than they had been in a pre-COVID world. Connected, always-on tech is now being used by small businesses to create new experiences for customers and new ways of doing business.

There’s no doubt that it’s going to continue to be hard for many to adapt. Previous barriers to adoption such as time pressure or complexity are still as relevant as ever, but the urgency has increased. Video, remote connectivity and e-commerce must now be the watchwords of the successful post-COVID SMB.

One such business adapting successfully is Kalleske Wines. Situated in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, Kalleske relied heavily on physical presence at its winery, restaurant and cellar door to do business. When COVID-19 hit, Kalleske had the radical idea to take the fundamental features of a winery and put it online, adapting and digitising its operation rapidly to stay open.

It started to offer mixed six- and 12-packs of wine with accompanying videos and downloadable resources for customers to learn more about the wine. Furthermore, it replaced its Cellar Door experience with Facebook Live sessions in conjunction with a local industry group to continue tour and information sessions. Private tastings were held via video conference, with customers being sent new 100mL sample sizes to try the wine during the session.

Kalleske has told us that they’ll almost certainly continue all of these initiatives in the future to ensure that customers who would rather not travel can still take advantage of what their business has to offer.

It’s not an easy road out of COVID-19, but with resilience and ingenuity, many SMBs will be able to adapt to changing consumer behaviour and provide more remote working opportunities for their employees. Ultimately though, there is no going back.

COVID-19 represents a fundamental opportunity to capture not only a new wave of online shoppers, but also for SMBs to digitise their operations.

As the backbone of the Australian economy it is now incumbent upon all of us to get behind small business and help them grow. However, moving past these challenges (toward a new normal) and moving back into growth requires time and support, which many SMBs don’t currently have.

So we have made some small but significant changes to help them thrive:

  • To give you peace of mind about staying connected to your business operations over the coming months, we’re providing unlimited data allowances on fixed broadband free of charge for our small business customers until 30 September.
  • We’re offering small business customers a $50 credit for 6 months when connecting a new fixed internet service on the $100 Business Internet Unlimited plan with a $25 Business Calling Pack, until 31 August. This is a great offer providing more value to our Business Internet Plans to help small business to thrive again.
  • We’re offering small businesses access to our new Digital Marketing Services website plans at half the regular cost, until 31 August. We’ll help you create or update your website and if needed, open an online store.
  • We’ll be on hand to assist you in creating business listings for Google My Business, Apple Maps and Facebook Business. For our existing customers, we will automatically apply 50 per cent off your Telstra Digital Marketing or Telstra Online Essentials website subscription charge.
  • If you’re missing any equipment to work from home, Telstra’s Mobile Worksuite gives you the data, software, devices and support you need to get you and your team working remotely smoothly.
  • We continue to monitor the situation closely while working closely with regulators and the government. Our absolute focus remains on team wellbeing, supporting our customers and playing our part in the national response.
  • Find out more details about how we’re supporting small businesses through COVID-19.
Tech and Innovation |

Navigating our brave new virtual world

By Michael Ebeid AM July 7, 2020

Many sectors, from professional services to education and even the arts, have discovered a brave new virtual world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether working or learning from home for the first time, seeing your doctor, accountant, fitness instructor or vet on a video conference or attending a virtual performance. As restrictions begin to ease, how will people work, learn and live in this new world?

Since March 2020 organisations across Australia have realised that not only can their employees work from home but that productivity need not suffer as a result. In fact, many are finding the opposite is true.

The upsides of a flexible work policy are well-documented, particularly for an increase in employee attraction, retention and diversity but also to reduce congestion, strain on public transport infrastructure and pollution in the environment.

Virtual services, here to stay

Dad and child working from home on laptop

The video conferencing technology boom has heralded a new era for the services sector, where we saw a rate of digitisation in just a few weeks that we were expecting over the next five years.

Banks have transitioned to remote sales and service teams and launched digital outreach to customers to make flexible payment arrangements for loans and mortgages.

While telemedicine got a massive boost during the pandemic, we also saw the advent of virtual vet consultations and even virtual babysitters, to help Mum and Dad out when they needed an hour of peace and quiet to get some work done while school was out.

It’s not only professional workers who worked from home. Contact centre workers were set up with ‘agent at home’ solutions – spun up almost overnight – opening up employment opportunities all over Australia like never before. The implications of ‘work from anywhere’ are especially significant for urban planning and makes the dream of sea- and tree-changers much closer to a reality.

And while people are working from home, unable to pop to the bank at lunch, or worried about sitting in a GP’s waiting room, they’ve also wanted the convenience of accessing services from home.

This sizable shift in customer behaviour shows many prefer digital interactions when accessing services. KPMG’s recent research found that 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to “normal.”

When we emerge post-COVID, the services industry will not instantly revert to pre-pandemic operations. For many, they will continue to operate dual operations – physical and virtual – and for others, physical services may never return to pre-pandemic levels.

Remote education for all ages

According to the World Economic Forum, 1.5 billion students across the world were unable to physically attend school as a result of the pandemic. Fortunately for most, it was not the end of learning, only the beginning of remote learning, thanks again to technology.

While home-schooling certainly wasn’t for everyone and has led to a renewed appreciation of teachers, the ability to continue learning despite the challenges, was critical.

Telstra worked with Education Departments all over Australia to rapidly upgrade their networks to establish remote learning hubs. In South Australia we helped create virtual classrooms via WebEx for all public schools, allowing teachers to create their own individual online learning space to deliver live video lessons and learning content for their classes.

In the Higher Education sector, where the sudden departure of International students wreaked havoc, we connected many Chinese and Korean students to Australian universities. We developed an online solution for approximately 4,000 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) students who were stuck overseas due to COVID-19 restrictions, allowing them to access educational resources and course content material.

These digital environments need not disappear post-pandemic. If education institutions can harness the digital tools they implemented during COVID-19, they will reap benefits not only of international education but the coming boom in micro-credentialing.

A new ING Future Focus Report shows that 3.3 million Australian adults are rethinking their career path because of the COVID-19 pandemic impact. It’s made many Aussies re-think their work choice with some questioning whether their existing skills will always be needed, while others have spent time dreaming about a change in career direction. To address this internally, we announced last week that we’re partnering with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to upskill a number of Telstra employees in the areas of data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning to meet the demands of a rapidly changing jobs market and digitising economy.

Being able to upskill in this rapidly changing world is an economic imperative and education has an important role to play.

Ensuring inclusivity

For those without access to the right digital tools, devices and connectivity, life in lockdown would have been very difficult – creating a wider digital divide than ever before.

The 2019 Australian Digital Inclusion Index found that the affordability gap for internet access between high and low-income households is at the same level it was in 2014. The nbn™ network is making connectivity easier but there’s a long way to go to close this gap.

When COVID-19 forced the move to remote learning, it really highlighted just how critical digital inclusion is. Working with state, territory, independent and catholic education departments we provided 30,000 free sim cards to disadvantaged students – not so they could watch Netflix or access social media – but so they could attend school and learn with their peers.

The digital economy will be a boon for many industries but we must ensure no one is left behind.

Many businesses thought they could never work remotely, but have quickly discovered that with the right technology, anything is possible. We are witnessing what will surely be remembered as a historic deployment of remote work and digitisation across almost every domain.

Tech and Innovation |

Telstra Health and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic

By Mary Foley June 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on how we all think about healthcare. This period has reinforced the drive for digitisation that most healthcare providers are already undertaking, and has dramatically accelerated newer technologies such as telehealth, in-home monitoring and access to information directly by patients. It has also demonstrated the importance of high quality, real-time health information for both clinical and health policy purposes.

Healthcare in Australia has been digitising for decades, but it is a gradual process and paper and faxed records are still commonplace. Most records in general practice, hospitals, aged care and pharmacies are digital, but there are still challenges with sharing this information efficiently.

During the pandemic, however, there has been an increased focus on the importance of sharing high-quality digital health information, as well as the ability to provide options for the public to access care and advice in a socially distanced world.

At Telstra Health we have been working collaboratively with hospitals and healthcare professionals to help digitise different systems and help them move to a new virtual consultation model.

As a result of the pandemic, more Australians are now having their first contact with virtually-delivered healthcare supported by digital technologies, and it won’t be their last.

Taking digital care mainstream

Radical change in how patients access care has been driven not only by the pandemic, but also by the radical change in the Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS). The removal of restrictions and introduction of new MBS items for telehealth is one of the most fundamental changes to Medicare in over 30 years, indeed in March this year, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said ‘…we announced universal telehealth for Australians, in other words, we rebuilt Medicare over the course of the last ten days.’

Additionally, the Australian Government also committed to fast-track the implementation of new electronic prescriptions for patients. This move – which was implemented in just two months during the pandemic – represents enormous change in a highly regulated sector.

These technology changes have brought new ways for practitioners to care for their patients. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 by helping Australians to stay inside for their medical appointments is one way digital healthcare proved vital during the pandemic.

After the introduction of bulk-billed telehealth consultations for all Australians, for example, call volumes to Telstra Health’s telehealth service tripled compared to pre-COVID levels. In fact, since the pandemic was declared, we understand approximately 25 per cent of GP visits are now conducted virtually, up from a base in the single digits pre-pandemic. And at one point during the pandemic 70 per cent of specialist visits were conducted via telehealth.

These services do more than just make it easier for patients and clinicians to receive and deliver care respectively, they helped – and will continue to help – reduce pressure on vital local hospital services. GPs are also reporting that a large number of consultations in this time are for mental health care.

The introduction of the first end-to-end paperless script transaction represents a significant milestone in the Australian health system.

Pre-pandemic, patients needed, for the most bipart, to attend a doctor’s office in person for a prescription before taking it to the pharmacy.

At the beginning of May, FRED IT, a joint venture partner of Telstra Health, successfully delivered the first paperless script transaction between a GP and a pharmacy.

The model involves a doctor writing an electronic prescription that is received as an encrypted ‘token’ by the patient as an SMS or email. The patient then forwards or presents this code for dispensing at their chosen pharmacy.

It not only makes it easier for patients to collect their medicine, but it also makes it safer: patients are far less likely to be dispensed the wrong dosage when scripts are digitally controlled between the GP and pharmacy.

Patients are less likely to lose scripts, and those on multiple medications can more easily keep track of their scripts via digital means.

Telstra Health is also working with large public hospitals and emergency departments to support patients in their own homes. These solutions involve using remote monitoring to receive pulse and oxygen saturation readings with a SpO2 pulse oximeter as well as blood pressure data, meaning infectious patients don’t have to leave their homes for some care.

We have worked to reduce isolation and support care in vulnerable aged care facilities where many residents are at the most risk of COVID-19, keeping them in touch with their families while in isolation via the specialist Message Manager Platform. This helps to reduce social isolation while also being conscious of exposing aged care residents to unnecessary risk.

This includes introducing new forms within our aged care software to assist in the identification and care of high-risk COVID-19 patients or patients who have a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

At a macro level, Telstra’s technology has been used to keep governments informed of Intensive Care Unit capacity and the status of those in self-isolation.

All of these examples show how technology can benefit the lives of all Australians.

What we’ve learned during this time of intense change will stay with us throughout our future healthcare journey, as we work to continue the momentum of implementing safe, reliable and available digital healthcare for every Australian.

Tech and Innovation | Telstra News |

Growing Australia’s digital economy out of COVID-19

By Andrew Penn June 26, 2020

When COVID-19 made many of us shut our doors, something happened. Digital doors opened in their place. We embraced technology like never before to keep businesses running, people working, kids learning and ourselves entertained.

We now have a growing digital economy – something I recently highlighted as a significant opportunity we as a nation should seize. With businesses reopening and social restrictions relaxing, (albeit with some constraints given the risk of increased infections), we should stop thinking about post-COVID-19 as only a “recovery”, but as an opportunity to grow the economy in the long term and put us in a better global position.

From the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression, profound disruption has brought opportunities to be bold, to re-think conventional wisdom, and seek out new economic and social opportunities to help build a stronger future for everyone.

COVID-19 has proved change can be made and embraced quickly. During the height of the pandemic we saw a huge acceleration in digitisation – from telehealth to online learning, remote working and e-commerce – and the fast-tracking of numerous policy and regulatory changes to break down long-standing digital roadblocks.

As a nation we have achieved in a few months what might have taken us years to progress, and it is important that we now do not lose that momentum.

However, a single company, a single organisation or a single government cannot achieve this on its own. Through coalitions across the public and private sectors, we can affect change by removing barriers and incentivising growth so it is faster and more pervasive.

Over the past few weeks I have been Chairing the Business Council of Australia (BCA) Digital Economy and Telecommunications working group, and this is exactly our aim: to map out tangible ways we can put Australia at the forefront of a digital future – paperless, cashless and virtual – so we can come out of this stronger as a nation, not just bounce back.

This requires reform in five key areas: 

  1. Digital transition 
  2. Infrastructure 
  3. Regulation 
  4. Cyber Security 
  5. Skills  

1. Digital transition

Australia’s local businesses and enterprises pivoted quickly to ensure they could keep running – from working from home, to medical practitioners delivering telehealth consultations, we even saw interactive online cheese tasting sessions!

Technology was at the core of many businesses that adapted well. That said, a range of recent studies found that Australia’s small-to-medium enterprise sector could be substantially enhanced by a greater investment in digitising their internal processes and developing an effective web presence. Xero’s September 2019 Small Business insights indicate that businesses that boost technology spending the most grow revenue three times faster than those with the weakest technology spend.

Some options we are exploring include potential incentives and assistance to help the small business sector access the benefits of greater digitisation of business processes and an improved online presence.

2. Infrastructure

Connectivity is what powered many workers and businesses during the crisis, ensuring they could continue running.

For Australians to effectively participate in the digital economy, they need access to affordable, fast and reliable telecommunications services.

Telstra announced $500 million of capital expenditure planned for the second half of FY21 would be brought forward into the calendar year 2020, to increase capacity in our network, accelerate our roll-out of 5G, power more people with connectivity as well as provide a much needed economic boost.

With the completion of the nbn rollout nearing, there is now an opportunity for the Australian Government to develop its future vision for Australia’s digital economy and the telecommunications industry for the next decade – a vision that is technology agnostic and provides an environment that is pro-investment and pro-innovation.

3. Regulation

Governments and regulators play a significant role in enabling a digital nation, as well as ensuring as many Australians as possible can take advantage of the opportunity.

They took significant steps forward during the pandemic, including measures to help provide better access to telehealth, virtual AGMs, electronic execution of documents, and national electronic pharmacy scripts.

In the spirit of those last two initiatives, the BCA will be recommending a systematic review of regulation from federal to state to local, to eliminate barriers to a virtual and paperless society and a cashless economy.

4. Cyber Security

Last week was a timely reminder about the importance of strong cyber security, with the Prime Minister highlighting major cyber-attacks that are putting pressure on critical infrastructure and public services.

Cyber security is a large and growing area of risk for the security of the nation, and COVID-19 has increased that risk with so many people working and studying from home, away from traditional security measures.

Separately, I have been working with the Government chairing its industry advisory panel on the development of the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy. This will contain a number of significant initiatives to strengthen our collective cyber defences.

5. Skills

It was inspiring to see the flexible and innovative mindset many businesses adopted during the pandemic. This mindset needs to be deeply ingrained in Australian culture and to do this we need to invest in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) skills.

We have partnered with five Australian universities to jointly develop critical skills and capabilities in areas such as network and software engineering, cyber security and data analytics. But we also need more people entering technology courses, and particularly more diverse talent, including female and Indigenous students.

We are also working on a suite of proposed improvements to the way industry and the education system collaborate, to ensure Australia’s school leavers have the foundation skills needed to succeed in the modern digital economy.

Australia’s opportunity to lead

The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has left many businesses and families doing it tough and we need to do everything we can to build a stronger economy in the longer term in response.

Australia has been a world leader when it comes to protecting the nation’s health and economy during COVID-19, and now we can lead again. It will be important in so doing that this includes success for all of our communities.

I recently posed the question What type of historical moment will this turn out to be?. As life slowly begins to return to some type of normal, we are approaching a sliding doors moment.

We can go back to the way things were, or we can build on the innovative, can-do mindset that drove so many positive changes during the most significant disruption to daily life in a generation.

Tech and Innovation |

Telcos at the heart of distributed superpowers

By Sami Makelainen March 9, 2020

Every year, the tech industry likes to make predictions for the next year. That can be tricky as technology trends rarely align with the calendar year. For identifying broader trends and more fundamental changes in the landscape beyond just individual cool new products, it, therefore, makes sense to take a longer view.

Taking a longer view is what foresight work is all about.

When it comes to foresight, it is essential to look at the world with as broad a perspective as possible. That is why Telstra partners with the leading futures think tank in the world, IFTF. The Institute for the Future is a Palo Alto-based non-profit that has been around for half a century after being spun off from the RAND Corporation and typically considers the future with a 10-year horizon.

What the IFTF calls this decade is The Age of Distributed Superpowers.

As the world has become more connected and complex, as technologies and ubiquitous connectivity permeate our lives, corporations and individuals alike have seen a new set of powers come to their disposal – powers that can create impact faster and with more reach than ever before.

The Internet is enabling us to shift the public narrative seemingly overnight; rapid technological transformation is creating pressure for regulatory overhauls, altering the rules; markets are being re-invented almost overnight; data-centric tech companies pose an urgent competitive threat to many incumbent organisations that have enjoyed decades of relative stability.

We have already witnessed some early examples of these superpowers in action.

We see them in the remarkably fast creation of new or disruptive business models, from the rise of Uber to the electric scooters taking over cities globally; the latter went from being nowhere a couple of years ago to being practically everywhere today.

It’s not all awesome, of course.

Wind turbine farm over the water

Disruption inevitably has downsides as well, and the same powers that drive growth and innovation can be harnessed for other purposes. Not only do they enable quickly capturing opportunities, but vulnerabilities in our systems are also discovered and then exploited at breathtaking speeds and at massive scale, leaving critical infrastructure from hospitals to the power grid vulnerable to attacks.

What has enabled this state that is simultaneously scary and exciting, brimming with potential but also fraught with systemic risk?

Much of it has to do with connectivity – both the digital and the physical kind.

Humanity can look at the result with some pride – physically connecting the world has enabled a plethora of good things, such as aid to be delivered to disaster areas, and food to be transported to countries struggling with famine. Countless lives have been saved, and countless others enriched through industries like tourism.

Digital connectivity has an equally impressive list of good outcomes; it has enabled much more efficient operations of almost everything. From sectors like agricultural production to entertainment and connecting people globally, technology has had a transformative impact over the past decades.

However, there is a flip side to every coin. Especially in recent years, we have come to appreciate that not everything that happens online can stand the light of day – sometimes, we know the technological communities we have built are swarming with roaches, but we’re scared to turn the lights on. Unintended consequences often cast a shadow on even the best of intentions.

Using the superpowers responsibly

Recognizing the likelihood of unintended consequences, and as we enter deeper into the age of distributed superpowers over this decade, we need to do so with a sense of humility, and a sense of positive purpose.

It behooves us to consider Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology:

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

What he meant with that is the all technical developments have environmental, social and human consequences that go far beyond the immediate intended use of the technology – and the same technology can result in radically different outcomes when introduced in different contexts and circumstances.

This is why we – as a nation, as organizations, as communities, as individuals – need to approach the future with eyes wide open, acknowledging the potential for our tools to produce unintended consequences, and deploy them in a thoughtful, considerate manner.

What can we expect in the 2020s, then?

We can expect more markets to be re-invented and more rules to be re-written: by 2030, for example, it seems likely we might routinely be BBQing beef patties that come not from slaughtered beef, but either from lab meat or plant-based alternatives.

In futures thinking, it’s common practice to think of the future in terms of three cones expanding from today: possible futures, being all the possible ways the world could turn out to be – obviously, a vast range of scenarios. Then we have the probable futures, which are the scenarios the world seems to be heading towards currently. Finally, we have the preferable futures – for the lack of a better word, the utopias we would all like to happen.

What the emerging superpowers are doing is expanding the cone of probable futures.

Technologies like connectivity, communication, data processing, storage and artificial intelligence remain at the core of most future scenarios, so it’s our moral duty to do everything in our power to try to shift the window of probable futures to overlap as much as possible with the preferable futures.

In other words, to the best of our abilities, use the new superpowers for good.