The NBN: From concept to business reality

The question for SMEs is no longer “how will the NBN affect my business?” but “how can I best prepare to take advantage of it?” Here’s some expert advice.

This time last year much of the discussion around the National Broadband Network (NBN) was how it would enable Australian small businesses to get ahead in the online-enabled world. At that time, research had been released that showed while small businesses recognised the benefits of high speed broadband, many were struggling to integrate online because of the high cost of broadband services.

Twelve months on, examples of the difference that affordable, high-speed broadband can make to individual businesses are no longer simply theoretical. Companies in sites where the NBN has gone live are growing their markets – firms as diverse as a party supplies business in rural South Australia and an IT support business in inner-city Melbourne.

What’s more, the NBN is responsible for a nascent but important societal shift. Entrepreneurs such as Paul Gosney, who owns and runs a photography business originally based out of Sydney, are moving to NBN-connected sites to take advantage of the benefits it delivers. Paul relocated to Kiama on the south coast of New South Wales last year to not only run his image and data-heavy business more efficiently over the NBN, but to also access the lifestyle gains of living outside the city and tele-working.

These developments are all the more interesting when put in the context of a study released by Alcatel Lucent into how Australian organisations are prepared to participate in the benefits of the digital economy. The global telecommunications company surveyed 275 medium-to-large Australian businesses (20-to-200 staff) across a range of sectors. It found that almost a quarter of the respondents considered themselves “enthusiastic leaders” in the digital economy, and 69 percent said they were “prepared to benefit in the future.”

In 2012, the question is no longer: “Will high-speed broadband benefit my business?” Rather it is: “How should I adapt my business strategy to take advantage of the opportunities it presents?”

More than 80 percent of the Alcatel Lucent respondents believed that planning needed to occur at an executive or all-of-company level to harness the full benefits of the digital economy. So what should business owners and managers consider when planning to take advantage of the available NBN services?

Based on NBN Co’s work with SMBs in NBN-connected sites, the six most important business planning questions you can ask to help ready your business to take advantage of the NBN services are:

  1. Am I able to compete in a national or global marketplace?
  2. How will my customers buy from me in the future?
  3. How will I mange my relationship with them, from marketing to after-sales service?
  4. How will I attract qualified staff to sustain my business?
  5. How do I retain my staff by offering an attractive work environment comparable to what is on offer from big business?
  6. How do I streamline business processes so that I have more time to work on the business rather than in it?

Increasingly, the answer to these questions is: online.

Whether customers are interacting with your business via a smartphone, a laptop at home or a PC at work, an online shopfront will for many customers be as important as your physical presence. The NBN (along with the right software, equipment and in-premises connection) makes it possible for your shopfront to the world to load quickly, process transactions fast and take advantage of rich media such as video and images without delays, all of which research shows keeps customers on your site and can boost sales.

When it comes to attracting and retaining staff, the ability to tele-commute (through high quality video conferencing) and create a “virtual workforces” with staff who may be located in another town, city or state, becomes a reality. Reliable video conferencing replaces the need to travel to meetings and potentially negates the need for a city-based office. And telepresence technology makes it possible for teams to work as though they are side by side. For employees, the fact that they can work from home, but still receive quality training online and participate socially in the workforce via video conferencing, is hugely attractive.

Finally, streamlining business processes is made possible in many ways. With high-speed broadband, solutions that were once the reserve of big business which had the money and resources to implement them (such as clever software to manage marketing and customer relationships) are now accessible to any small business via cloud computing.2 Reliable video links between sites also open up numerous efficiencies such as troubleshooting problems at a remote office using web cameras, or consulting with a professional advisor in a nearby city.

To assist Australia’s two million small businesses reach new markets, boost their efficiency, and cut costs using online, NBN Co plans to offer telephone and internet service providers new high speed broadband services at a wholesale level which can be designed to meet the individual needs of small businesses. These business-grade products from NBN Co will help small businesses to use their broadband for quality voice services, and to access improved service levels to support longer hours of business operation.

As the NBN continues its rollout across the country, it’s encouraging to see innovative Australian small businesses already taking advantage of affordable high-speed broadband to increase their efficiencies, reach new markets and ultimately help them get ahead.

CASE STUDY: New business for Brunswick IT Company

Sam Dawes is the managing director of Glow Networks, an IT business based in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick that specialises in business IT support, consulting services, and business grade VoIP services. For Glow Networks, the opportunity to migrate to an NBN service couldn’t have come soon enough.

“We scraped through with the limited bandwidth available through the old ethernet network, but it was crazily prohibitive,” Dawes recalls. “The speed and reliability of the ADSL connection just wasn’t up to the task of running a tech business.”

He says the biggest improvements have been to the speed and reliability of his internet connection. He recalls that before the business connected to the NBN, sharing large files via email was painstakingly slow. “A 15-megabyte attachment could sit in my outbox for 15 minutes, but now we’re sending and receiving big files instantly and uploading video materials to YouTube in under 20 seconds,” he said.

For Glow Networks, the benefits have extended beyond improvements to efficiency and day-to-day processes; it has also allowed Dawes to expand the business by helping to develop new products and services to take to new customers.

Since connecting to the NBN last year, Glow Networks has developed two new business offerings to customers:

  • “Telehealth Connect” is a video conferencing platform that allows GPs and health professionals outside metropolitan areas to provide remote consultations to patients, regardless of their location.
  • “Data On-Ramping” is a specially designed platform that allows the swift transition of a businesses’ existing network data, which may include email, calendars, contacts, share point documents and company archives, to cloud services.

“We’ve been able to take our core business offering, improve it and build on it to create new services to take to both existing and new customers. For us, our NBN connection has actually helped us to create new business opportunities that we couldn’t access before. Based on this, and the growing appetite for cloud-based services among our customers, we expect the business to expand by around 30 percent this year,” said Dawes.

He puts the success of his new business ventures down to the ability to identify and adapt to emerging business trends, but also having the means to develop and trial new services to meet customer demand. “With the NBN, we’ve got the means to develop and test the products we’ve always wanted to,” he said. “Instead of having to use expensive data centres for testing, our extended bandwidth has allowed us to adopt a world class system to validate new products within our own network.

“We’ve already innovated and grown our business beyond what I thought was possible even this time last year.”

–Jim Hassell is Head of Product Management & Industry Relations, NBN Co.