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Blink and you’ll miss it

Can you keep up in 2008? Marguerite McKinnon looks at what’s being done to help small businesses take the leap into eCommerce and reach all those hard-to-get-at places around the world.
Do you remember when the sight of someone talking to themselves on the street made you cross to the other side? It really hasn’t been that long since those days has it? Actually… it was (yikes!) 21 years ago. The year was 1987: Australia won our first cricket World Cup, Pseudo Echo’s ‘Funky Town’ spent seven weeks at number one, and Telecom introduced its first handheld mobile phone. The brick sold for a tidy $4250.We all know what happened next. Prices dropped, the market was flooded and, in no time, the reaction to people walking around chatting alone went from “what a weirdo!” to barely raising an eyebrow (especially as Botox became Australia’s most popular cosmetic, dahling). Today, more than 19 million Aussies carry a mobile phone. And the days of The Brick are long gone. This month, the nation’s dig-o-files will scramble to be the first to own the next phase in mobile communications: a slide-up phone which is just 1.4cm thin, weighs a teensy 105 grams and comes with all the trimmings including a high megapixel camera with LED flash, image editor, white balance option, Macro, and Panorama picture modes, as well as a digital music player, FM radio, Bluetooth and 1GB micro memory card. And in a few months’ time, the arrival of the iPhone will only intensify our gadget love affair. But the rush for new technology in 2008 isn’t just about phones. Small business owners are already doing their darnedest to turn a profit, get the paperwork out of the way and devise new ways to attract customers… NOW they’re running a sprint just to keep up with cutting-edge technology. Remember the old saying, ‘If you snooze, you lose.’So how does a small business stay on the cusp of what’s new, not only in Australia but around the world? Get friendly with eCommerce. The Federal Government promises a high-speed broadband network will be a critical enabler of the digital economy. Can you believe in 2008 many Australians are STILL on dial-up because phone line infrastructure hasn’t been updated in their regions yet? Once again, it’s country areas that are missing out, and they’re spewing. The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (yes, that is his title) Stephen Conroy told Nett, “We need to ensure a safe and secure online environment where small businesses and consumers are safe from the potential hazards of eCommerce such as cyber fraud. We also need to ensure Australian consumers and small business operators can acquire the skills to engage fully in the digital economy. Further, if necessary, we will review current regulatory frameworks to identify and address barriers to growth within the digital economy.” That might sound like catching sifting sand, but it’s music to the ears of small business owners. But what about customers? We’re not all tech wizards. Senator Conroy told us, “The Rudd Labor Government intends to take steps to minimize the digital divide. In a small business and commerce sense, this means engaging with the elderly and people with mobility issues to de-stigmatize e-commerce and further open up consumer markets. On a more global level, this means engaging with less developed economies in the region to open up trading partnerships by minimizing the problems posed to small business by the tyranny of distance.”Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Maybe if the government makes the playing field fair for everyone when it comes to the digital superhighway, these grandiose plans may have some substance. 

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