Celebrity taskforce without an SME

James Riley
Editorial Director

Celebrity businessman Mark Bouris has been tapped by the Feds to chair a new Small Business Digital Taskforce, joining a star-studded corporate line-up of advisers to come up with strategies for getting more small businesses to adopt digital technologies.

The Taskforce includes Suncorp Group innovation chief and former Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow; National Australia Bank’s CEO of Asia operations Spiro Pappas; Energy Renaissance managing director Su McCluskey; Assistant Minister for Innovation Craig Laundy; and Liberal MP David Coleman.

The one voice missing from this impressive Small Business Digital Taskforce is an actual small business, or even a small business representative body – an omission not lost on the shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic.

Mark Bouris: Leading the charge to get more SMEs into the digital economy

“There are some great people – such as Pip Marlow – appointed to this Taskforce. But aside from who is on the taskforce, what’s noticeable is who isn’t on in it: small business,” Mr Husic said.

“How do you set up a Small Business Digital Engagement Taskforce and fail to engage small business representatives? Not a terrific start for a taskforce that has an important job to do.”

The new taskforce is to identify where there are opportunities for small businesses to adopt digital technologies, and to highlight the key risks if they remain outside the digital economy. It would also identify regulatory impediments, or other issues cultural or behavioural barriers to adoption.

The taskforce will have until 28 February, 2018 to report to the government on its findings and make recommendations on the most effective way to provide information to small businesses about the digital economy.

If the taskforce sounds like Yogi Berra’s déjà vu all over again, it is: The Department of Industry is in the middle of a consultation period to deliver a national Digital Economy Strategy, which was announced in September and is taking submissions until November 30.

Due to be launched in the first half of 2018, the digital economy is exploring topics including digital infrastructure, digital business capability, and building digital skills and inclusion.

Meanwhile, the government has boasted its Digital Marketplace – one of a series of initiatives introduced under the National Innovation and Science Agenda introduced to help small businesses gain access to government contracts – awarded 75 per cent of $50 million in technology contracts to some 487 SMBs currently registered as sellers on the marketplace.

As for whether this initiative actually is making a difference it’s still all rather a mystery, however, according to Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor is by comparison a real achievement as SMEs only picked up 30 per cent of government contracts on Austender in 2015-16.

“This is a real achievement and shows we’re breaking down some of the barriers for small businesses who want to win digital work with government,” he said.

Now, Mr Taylor said the government aims to target an additional 10 per cent market share of its more than $6 billion annual ICT spend toward SMEs.

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