As technology continues to evolve, and the competition in small- and medium-sized business increases, digital engagement remains a real opportunity, and real marketplace differentiator, for the sector.

Deloitte Access Economics’ Connected Small Businesses report for Google finds that in just 12 months, small and medium businesses adoption of digital tools has grown significantly – with 12% of businesses moving up the digital engagement ‘ladder’, and no longer having just ‘basic’ levels of engagement.

For the first time, they are reaching higher levels of engagement across areas that include social media, websites, online marketing tools and data analytics.

Deloitte Access Economics partner, and the report’s principal author, John O’Mahony said, across all sectors, more than two million small and medium sized businesses make an important contribution to the Australian economy, accounting for over half of private sector economic activity and over two-thirds of its employment.

“And in recent years, digital engagement has become a critical ingredient to success on a number of fronts – from revenue growth and job creation, to innovation.

“We’ve found that since our first report for Google in 2013, the take-up of digital tools has been accelerating over time, and that there has been a particularly strong uptake since we last surveyed business operators only 12 months ago.

The report also identifies an improvement in digital engagement across all industries. Despite perceptions of lower digital engagement, businesses in traditional industries such as plumbing and other trades, mining, manufacturing and utilities, were found to be performing even more strongly on digital engagement than knowledge industries such as professional and financial services, and health, education and public administration.

Relative to businesses with basic levels of digital engagement, those with advanced levels of digital engagement are:
• 50% more likely to be growing revenue
• Earning 60% more revenue per employee. “Engaging with, investing in, and then keeping up with digital can open up significant new opportunities for businesses in terms of agility, competitive advantage, innovation and growth, regardless of industry and geography,” O’Mahony said.

“It’s encouraging that digital engagement has increased across the board, but businesses in regional areas and those with more established operations have lower digital engagement on average.

“Our research suggests that age of the business owner or manager, their attitude to and use of technology are key factors in determining the level of digital engagement for the business.”

Businesses have identified a number of barriers to increasing digital engagement.

“While we’ve seen a lot of improvement, nearly 90% of businesses are still not taking full advantage of today’s digital tools,” O’Mahony said. “There’s still work to be done in helping some business owners and decision makers understand the value associated with increased digital engagement.

“And education and upskilling is certainly one areas that can help build trust in digital tools and address potential issues or perceived barriers to greater engagement. “In the end, there can be a clear financial dividend for those smaller businesses that get things right, just as there are significant risks for those that haven’t yet taken the digital leap.”

Fast Fact

Plumbing and technology

If you think plumbing and technology don’t mix think again: 75% of people in an 11 Mark survey admitted they use their phones in the bathroom.

Seriously though, plumbing has always been at the forefront of technology, with the oldest sewer system discovered in the palace of the Indus River Valley in India, dating back to 4000 BC and evidence of indoor plumbing (complete with copper piping) has been found in ancient Egypt at the Pyramid of Cheops dating back to 2500 BC. It is not surprising then that plumbers are still looking at ways to incorporate technology into their businesses.