Brisbane Council audit targets digital businesses

By Julian Bajkowski

Brisbane City Council has run the ruler over the digital prowess of 500 of the city’s businesses in an innovative bid to lift the online proficiency of local enterprises when competing in the global market.

The landmark assessment has come in the form of an official “Digital Audit” commissioned by the economic development board of Brisbane Marketing whose probe covered 19 industries “from single operators to companies of more than 5000 employees, representing the broad spectrum of Brisbane’s businesses.”

The audit follows Brisbane City Councils appointment in July of a Chief Digital Officer, Kieran O’Hea, whom the mega-council has hired to spearhead its efforts to help local businesses and the community take full advantage of the rapidly growing online economy.

Brisbane claims it is just the second city after New York to create such a position, a move that comes as many traditional retail businesses in Australia unprecedented disruption in the face of the rise of online commerce which has challenged big incumbent store brands like David Jones and Myer.

Created after consultation between BCC and businesses over the development of the Economic Development Plan 2012-2031, Mr O’Hea’s position is regarded by many as crucial measure to ensure the city and state economy can stay ahead of the curve and reap benefits of the digital economy rather than becoming hostage to them.

The move is being closely watched by Sydney and Melbourne which both recently held local government elections that returned their respective incumbent Lord Mayors. Big city councils have a vested interest in the prosperity of local businesses because they represent a significant source of revenue.

A key advantage of so-called digital empowerment of businesses is that smaller enterprises are able to compete for customers because of relatively low barriers to entry, a scenario that in turn helps create regional employment and keeps cash coming into the local economy.

The urgency of finding new economic stimulus for Queensland has come as the state faces a protracted inbound tourism downturn because of a high Australian dollar coupled with a substantial hit to the public purse following floods which saw Brisbane and many parts of the states inundated.

Mr O’Hea has not been shy about setting targets for either his organisation or Brisbane’s business community.

“Thirty per cent of companies interviewed are selling products and services online and most are using digital technology to communicate with customers and suppliers,” he said. “This is a great start but I’d like to see this doubled within the next five years.”

Mr O’Hea said that the auditors “found business size was not a factor in measuring digital effectiveness, rather it was having a digital strategy focused on the end-to-end customer experience.

He said companies who were exports showed higher levels of maturity in their “digital capabilities.”

“It’s critical we lift the digital capabilities of companies not exporting so we are equipped to face globalisation and overseas competition,” Mr O’Hea said.

Speaking at the CLICK! Digital Expo, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said that his city “achieved a respectable mid-range score in its overall level of digital maturity.”

“The aim of the audit was to benchmark Brisbane’s current digital landscape to identify our capabilities and opportunities to grow and mature, and to identify exemplar companies contributing to the growth of our digital economy,” Councillor Quirk said.

“It is extremely encouraging to see such a large majority of our Brisbane business sector already engaged in digital technology to sell goods or services and to communicate with customers and suppliers.”

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