Australian companies are expected to spend more than $77 billion on IT services in 2014, according to a report released by analyst firm Gartner last year.
With that in mind, Fairfax Media asked four digital companies from Brisbane and one from New Zealand for tips on how small and medium-sized businesses can use technology to their advantage.
Use social media socially, not just for spruiking
It’s an accepted fact that some businesses are more likely to garner a social media following than others; the local mechanic is never going to compete with chic online fashion retailers.
However Chris Macauley, the business development manager at Brisbane digital agency Klyp, says customers expect to see all businesses to have an online presence, and that includes social media accounts.
“Social media is about having a conversation with your audience, it’s not just about pushing content out. It doesnt matter what sort of business you are, there needs to be some kind of engagement,” he said.
So will pouring man-hours into social media each day boost sales? Not necessarily, Mr Macauley says, but that may not even be the objective.
“It depends on what you’re trying to achieve,” he said.
“With mining, they’re not trying to get “likes” and get awareness, it’s about showcasing what they’re doing. But for a retailer it’s about driving awareness and sales.
Head to the cloud…
Still using Microsoft Office 2003?
The days of using outdated word-processing software could be limited as cloud-based technology comes to the fore.
The cloud system means programs are not directly installed on computers, and are instead accessed via the internet. In theory, you should be able to edit files on any smartphone, tablet or computer with web connectivity.
R&G Technologies managing director Gordon Tan says small businesses can save money if they’re willing to switch over to cloud systems, with Google and Microsoft leading the way.
“Cloud computing levels the playing field for a start,” he said. “It gives access to technology and solutions that in the past might have only been accessible to larger businesses.”
“Given the productivity and cost savings, if you were to fast-forward four to five years, 95 per cent of businesses will be operating in the cloud.”
There are some drawbacks, Mr Tan concedes.
For starters, no internet means no cloud.
Australian internet speeds lag behind American and European counterparts. Also, your precious company information is stored on other people’s servers, potentially overseas.
…and sell to the cloud
If you believe software developer Vend, the humble cash register could also be on the way out.
Computerized point-of-sale systems could also be superseded by technology that works on computers, tablets and smartphones.
Vend Content and PR manager Simon Pound said the cloud brought “flexibility, access and power” to retailers.
Vend, which launched in New Zealand during 2010, now has more than 8000 businesses worldwide who use its software.
“With the old way of doing things, you’d get a bit of hardware, and it would be a point of sale. That would cost you thousands of dollars. You’d then have to pay people whenever you needed to add products,” he said.
As for security, customer credit card details are not entered or stored within Vend systems – that remains a task managed by traditional card merchants.
What is stored online, however, is sales and product data of companies.
Master the search engines
Being towards the top of search engine results is one way a business can experience a lift, online marketing company ReachLocal says.
And despite the seemingly infinite size of the internet, it’s local companies who can strike it lucky if their digital presence is designed to capture the attention of Google, Yahoo and Bing.
There are also “sponsored results” which usually appear at the top of searches and are highlighted.
“A majority of the Australian population is online now and not everyone is reading a traditional print newspaper or reading a billboard,” ReachLocal marketing manager Manica Cortezano said.
“If someone had the skillset and the time, they can run an AdWords campaign themselves, although it’s very time consuming”.
Create an app and make sure it works properly.
Every business does not need it’s own smartphone app, Thumb Factory CEO Adam Penberthy says.
But if an app can boost efficiency within the business, or while dealing with customers, Mr Penberthy said it’s an investment worth considering.
Some examples include allowing customers to fill documents in online instead of manually in store, or allowing someone to order their morning coffee 10 minutes before arrival.
Mr Penberthy said the cost of developing a company app could range from “$5000 to $500,000”, and like anything technology investment, there is a risk.
The main one is creating an elegant and functional app that nobody downloads.
Possibly just as bad is when the app doesn’t work properly.
“Straight away, if a user uses an app and has a poor experience, the likelihood of them going back is reduced,” he said.
“Making sure it is bug-free is critical.