Kiwi SMBs get digital boost

Published on the 28/01/2021 | Written by Heather Wright


Understanding + education + the right tech tools = digital boost…

Public and private sector have come together to help give Kiwi SMBs a digital boost through a new $15 million MBIE programme which is aiming to push 50,000 businesses through digital training.

The new Digital Boost programme, which includes more than $7.5 million for free online training, comes on the back of a survey which shows 42 percent of Kiwi SMBs surveyed want to make greater use of digital tools, but that a lack of confidence and understanding of technology, and a lack of time, are big barriers to that.

AJ Millward, MBIE general manager of small business and strategic programmes, says the Business Health Survey, conducted in last September and October, showed that businesses were ‘really hungry to be more online’.

“When you get the end user, the subject matter experts and the government lined up you can start to create really good change.”

And there’s good reason for that, with a Xero report showing small businesses using four or more digital services to run their business experienced a third less revenue drop and 40 percent less job losses as those not digitally enabled.

“The statistics were really interesting and back up the links between digital businesses and sustainability and resilience of businesses and having a distinct competitive advantage,” Millward told iStart.

Actually going digital, however, is a different story. Enter MBIE, in partnership with some 32 digital industry players including Xero, Vodafone, Spark, Zeald and BNZ, and small businesses. It’s that partnership aspect Millward says will be key in helping Digital Boost become a success story.

“When you get the end user or direct beneficiary, the subject matter experts and the government lined up you can start to create really good change at a system level,” she says.

“This is not the government coming along deciding what is best. It’s small businesses telling us what they need and us bringing in the private sector and really working in partnership to give them what they need to be as successful as they possibly can.”

Millward says while MBIE had always planned for a programme to encourage small businesses – the powerhouse of New Zealand’s economy – to go digital, Covid provided further incentive as going digital and being online became critical, and created the momentum to get an offering to market quickly.

An influx of funding in the form of $10 million from the Covid Recovery Fund announced last July, plus an additional $5 million from the Tourism Recovery Package, added impetus.

So what does $15 million get you?

The programme is split into three main ‘pillars’.

Says Millward: “It’s about getting people energised and giving them a reason to go digital, helping them learn how to use the tools to best benefit their businesses and then really embedding the tools in day to day use.”

It is not, however, about providing any implementation and software funding assistance and won’t be putting any tech in the hands of Kiwi SMBs. Instead it’s essentially a training delivery programme, with more than $7 million allocated to Auckland education provider The Mind Lab and Indigo to provide the education component.

The three pillars are a ‘Spotlight Series’ of short video case studies of small businesses sharing their experiences of using digital to transform their business; skills training and support providing and a digital applications and services marketplace which Millward says aims to cut through the marketing speak to provide SMBs with clear information on the apps and tools which they need for their individual business.

The Spotlight Series – the first 15 of which are already live – uses the tried and tested case study formula, in this case through ‘online, bite-size videos’ highlighting stories from a businesses including farms using digital tools to create better workflow management and cafes harnessing social media to attract more customers.

Millward says ultimately it’s hoped that 30 to 50 small businesses will be showcased, providing an example for every New Zealand small business of how they too can use digital.

It’s the skills and training programme which forms the bulk of the programme, however. The Mind Lab won a tender to provide the education element, partnering with Indigo, and Millward says the education contracts account for ‘just over half of the total amount – the $15 million’.

“Business owners told us cost is an issue, and this is completely free, so we’ve taken that barrier away,” Millward says.

“They also said they don’t necessarily have the time to learn and that traditional classroom learning [with set times and a requirement to show up at a physical location] are terrible for small businesses, out there keeping the economy going.”

The self-paced training modules cover six categories – digital tools, websites, digital marketing, small business accounting, customer insights and business growth and future technologies – with live Q&A sessions – currently one a day – and webinars supporting the training. (Businesses need to have an NZBN number to register for the free training, or will need to sign up to get an NZBN – a process Millward says takes only a few minutes, though she admits she hasn’t experienced it herself.)

“It’s about building the skills confidence and trust that small business owners need to really get the benefits of working digitally,” Millward says.

Completing the lineup is The Right Tool, a directory of ‘tools, technologies, products and services’ which will launch in February.

“It completes the triangle between creating the case or the energy around why a small business should look at going digital, then training and getting confident about using the tools and technologies and finally jumping on the directory to make sure what they have chosen is the right fit for their business and they haven’t missed or overlooked anything.”

Millward was unable to provide specifics on how exactly the directory, based on third-party information, will help businesses ‘find a bit of truth around what tools and technologies they should be looking to invest in’, with the full briefing for the directory later this week.

So what about the future?

Millward has big plans. She says she sees Digital Boost (and yes, they have trademarked the name and all) as ‘very much a starting point, in a lot of ways the pilot or phase one’ of the Government’s $75 million digital training courses plans.

Next up is adding ongoing support for small businesses. “We will bringin in digital businesses and small business and start to chew on that soon,” she says.

As to what success for the programme looks like, Millward is aiming for 50,000 of New Zealand’s 550,000 SMBs to go through the education platform, or at least to get signed up and actively participating, creating what she hopes will be a country of more sustainable, resilient small businesses.

The Digital Boost site is at

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