Monthly Archives: July 2012

Social enterprises deliver commercial capabilities with effective tools of trade

Today’s update is a guest post from Jessica Purbrick-Herbst, community manager for Social Traders. Jessica gives some tips on how social enterprises can use the digital economy to support their communications and marketing activities, and grow their businesses.

A social enterprise is a business that has a social purpose, and invests the majority of its profits (50% or more) into delivering that purpose. The social enterprise business model is robust and sustainable, and is increasingly becoming the business de rigueur as entrepreneurs seek alternative forms of profit distribution.

In context, there are over 20,000 social enterprises in Australia, with footprints in every Australian community. For some examples, consider your local bowling club, RSL or sporting league. Within this business model, the social enterprise sector may support a disadvantaged group (long term unemployed, disabilities, young and at risk). Or the production of low cost fruit and vegetables may provide access to fresh produce for everyone in the community. A social enterprise may be a cafe, a film production agency or community centre. It can also be a financial institution (for example, Bendigo Community Bank) or a packaging and distribution unit.

Just like any business, a social enterprise needs customers, and tools of the trade. Having access to the national broadband network (NBN) will enhance business growth across all sectors, by improving the speed, reliability and access to internet connections around the country. For social enterprise, utilising online marketing tools, directories and of course social media will help to grow the business, bringing in new opportunities.

Strong and stable internet connections have already enabled social enterprises in Tasmania to find customers globally; Victorian social enterprises to compete for business around Australia, and Melbourne social enterprise caterers to provide online ordering systems to corporate clients across the city. Without this network of reliable internet access, these businesses would miss opportunities and struggle to meet their social impact goals.

Top Tips for Hume Region Social Enterprises

  1.  Develop a practical, integrated marketing plan which coordinates online and off-line business growth activities.
  2. Communication activities need to be integrated (supported and consistent).
  3. Going online doesn’t have to be expensive. Utilise blogging platforms like WordPress or Tumblr to establish an online presence. Try Facebook and Twitter to support your activities. Use a regular, brief, action-orientated newsletter (try Mailchimp) to reach existing customers and find new ones.
  4. Don’t sign up for every shiny new online system – find the two or three preferred hangouts that are used by your current and potential customers, and build from there.
  5. Sign your business up for a free listing on The Social Enterprise Finder (www.thesefinder.com.au) – Australia’s only directory of social enterprises.

For further information and access to online tools and resources, go to:

Images and video links:

Communication and coordination at the Outdoor Education Group

For our latest Hume business case study, we spoke with Greg Caleo from OEG – the Outdoor Education Group, about how the Eildon-based company is communicating with customers and staff across the country.

Business overview

The Outdoor Education Group is one of the largest providers of journey-based outdoor education in Australia. Over the last 27 years we have delivered over 2 million student days in the outdoors. We have around 140 permanent staff in Victoria and NSW, and run school programs across Australia. These run from one-day to four-week expeditions, including dedicated Duke of Edinburgh Adventurous Journey programs. The majority of these programs are journey based and operate in public land, such as National Parks and State Forests. They typically involve activities such as bushwalking, canoeing, cycling, sea kayaking and rock climbing.

Tell us about the web technologies you are using in the business

We have a public-facing website, providing information on our programs, outdoor education resources and contact details. The site also has a clients-only area where students, staff and parents can access information about their own programs.

Behind the scenes, we run various pieces of technology to communicate between offices and staff. Landline phones using a VOIP system, a large intranet, and VPN access to the network are some of the ways we communicate internally.

What benefits have you gained from using these tools?

As OEG is managed from many different locations, communication and coordination is key for us. Having resources able to be accessed from different parts of the country is very important for us to be able to deliver outldoor education. In particular, having our scheduling and prediction systems widely available has allowed people to be more aware of the “big picture”.

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the NBN arrives?

Just having actual high speed broadband with our current systems will be a big improvement, both at the server and client ends. It will mean that users can access bigger “chunks” of data at a time. We would also be hoping to improve our videoconferencing abilities, as well as being able to have more media content available online, like videos and podcasts.

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies?

Running businesses from rural areas can be made easier by having good systems. These need not be enormous applications; sometimes just being able to share and view calendars is a big step up! It is important to pick the technologies and applications that suit what you are trying to achieve, then put time into them so that they work in the best way for your business. Regardless of the different needs we have, a reliable high-speed network will improve all types of use!

What’s your business up to online? If you run or work in a business in the Hume region and would like to share your story, contact us here.

The 3D printing revolution is closer than you might think

In May, Regional Development Australia organised a tour of the RMIT Advanced Manufacturing Precinct. Business owners and local government representatives from the Hume region saw a glimpse of the manufacturing revolution offered by 3D printing technologies – allowing designers to turn virtual models into solid objects made from a range of plastics or metals.

Now, the arrival of consumer-level 3D printing is closer than ever. Printers are already available for pre-order through several companies, such as Cubify and Makerbot. Entry level products currently cost around $1300-1700, and typically print in plastics such as biodegradable PLA (often used for testing new designs), or durable ABS (the material used to cast LEGO bricks). They work by laying down many thin layers, building the design a fraction of a millimetre at a time. More expensive printers use multiple printing heads to produce full colour designs.

The implications of 3D printing are huge – potentially “resetting the economics of manufacturing” (in a Feb 2011 Economist article). By moving the place of production to individual homes, designers can sell their products in an electronic format around the world without requiring a physical distribution network. Physical location is not as important as the skills and creativity needed to use the new medium – potentially helping those in regional locations to better compete on a global scale.

While 3D printers are rapidly becoming more affordable, they are still beyond the reach of many consumers. To bridge this gap, many printer manufacturers have branched out into print-on-demand services, allowing designers to upload their creations to be printed at a central location. Cubify currently sells printed designs for products in categories such as Fashion and Art, while Makerbot directs people to share their creations directly on the Thingiverse (an online marketplace for “Digital designs for real, physical objects”).

In a world where custom manufacturing could be as affordable as mass production, there are many opportunities for individualised, personal designs. Inspired by the London 2012 olympics, Luc Fusaro’s Designed to Win project shows how this new technology can be used to enhance athlete performance by tailoring products – in this case, running shoes – to the exact specifications of the user. The future of manufacturing is closer than you might think.

GPS and real-time location data: Ron Finemore Transport on transport logistics

For our latest Hume region business case study we spoke to David Coleman, from Ron Finemore Transport: a transport company operating across the eastern states, with its headquarters in Wodonga.

Business overview

Ron Finemore Transport was founded eight years ago when Ron Finemore AO purchased the Lewingtons transport business, which had operated from its Wodonga headquarters since the 1960′s. Today we are a regional line haul transport company, recognised as a leader in the Australian trucking industry. We specialise in the Food and Energy sectors of the road transport market, and have a blue chip client base that includes food manufacturers, supermarkets, retailers, major oil companies and independent fuel distributors throughout the eastern States of Australia.

Tell us about the web technologies you are using in the business

All of our prime movers are equipped with GPS vehicle monitoring systems. These provide our operations team with detailed reports via a web interface, including:

  • Live fleet locations
  • Proof of time of delivery and pickups
  • Driver activity reports
  • Man down alarms
  • Reporting of excessive idle, speed and revs
  • Accident reports
  • Fuel economy statistics
  • Driver identification

When used in conjunction with GPS geo-fencing of customer sites, our delivery performance KPI reporting capability is enhanced considerably. Linking the GPS system to our company IT operating system further improves our reporting capability and timelines, which are increasingly valued by our customers.

What benefits have you gained from using these tools?

Vastly improved real time location data on each of our 150+ vehicles gives supervising staff critical information at their fingertips, when they need it.

  • Improves operational control and efficiency of transport services provided to customers
  • Provides enhanced capability to resolve delays and re-schedule vehicles to ensure customer requirements are met
  • Enables immediate communication with customers over delays or service issues
  • Improves the scope, integrity and timeliness of performance reporting with customers
  • Enhances safety risk management of our driver workforce who operate in remote areas, 24/7/365 days per year and on their own

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the NBN arrives?

No plans yet, but we will be investigating opportunities such as:

  • Video conferencing
  • Cloud computing
  • Video, photo and data transfer and sharing of better information for event reporting (accidents, incidents, delays), delivery performance, proof of delivery and load documentation (moving towards paperless records)
  • Using social media to enhance our customer relationships

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies?

All businesses need to learn about, understand, test and evaluate new technologies, in order to maintain and improve their competitiveness in a fast-changing world. By sharing knowledge and collaborating with other stakeholders, both within your own networks and in other industry sectors, more creative ideas can be found while also avoiding the pitfalls of others.

Regional promotions – social media and tourism at the Regional City of Wangaratta

For the latest addition to our series on local government in Victoria’s North East, we spoke to Emma Keith – Tourism Development Officer at the Rural City of Wangaratta.

 

Key facilities in the Wangaratta council all have active social media platforms, chosen to complement their existing promotions. These are being used to build and engaging with local audiences, and to reach out to prospective visitors. Wangaratta’s visitor information centre currently uses a YouTube channel, lists their walking tours on TripAdvisor and Facebook, and has begun dabbling in Twitter and Pinterest. Similarly, the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre has built up a successful Facebook presence, with over 900 followers and 1,000 location check-ins. They have taken a personable approach, sharing ‘behind the scenes’ photos and stories with friends of the Arts Centre.

Another example of successful online activity in the region is the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail – a cycling route connecting Wangaratta, Rutherglen, Beechworth, Myrtleford and Bright, linking visitors to local food, wine and accommodation. The trail is actively promoted on many social media channels, such as TripAdvisor, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Emma notes that the local wine makers are very active in regional promotion, particularly through initiatives like King Valley Prosecco Road wine trail. Wineries like Dal Zotto, Pizzini and Brown Brothers use Twitter to share stories from the region, helping to raise awareness of the region, and engage people during their stay. “When they come to the vineyard, they feel like they are already part of that conversation – like they already know the people behind the cellar doors.” The council has also heard of local wineries using Twitter to organise direct sales to B2B and wholesale customers.

While many of Wangaratta’s arts and tourism promotions are highly active on social media, Emma also discusses ways to help those who are still lagging behind. Some businesses are reluctant to start as they feel that setting up and learning to use a social media account may be too complex or time consuming. Improving access to social media training and mentoring helps to overcome this barrier, giving businesses the confidence to get involved in this new economy.

Wangaratta Council is beginning a 12 month project on YouTube that will encourage local residents to contribute user generated content in the form of a 90 second video grab. These give people the opportunity to share the “best things in their own back yard” in their own words. For this, the council hopes to act as facilitators – allowing people to talk within the community, instead of sending official messages in to them.

The council also began trialling Facebook ads earlier in 2012, for tourism promotions around the NAB Cup match to be held at the Wangaratta Showgrounds. They created a series of ads with destination-focussed imagery, designed to inspire and motivate different groups, improving attendance at these events. Initial ads targeted fairly broad demographics, aimed at people in Melbourne and regional NSW. Local operators saw an immediate increase in demand, with some selling out events across the long weekend. The range of statistics available from these campaigns provide a great deal of insight to council into the demographics for these events, such as the location, age, and other interests of the people involved. These can be used to further refine the promotion of other events in the region.

Tree changes, regional economies and the NBN at Alpine Shire Council

For today’s update, we spoke to Clayton Neil about the NBN, business and local government in the Alpine Shire Council.

 

Clayton spoke about how increasing numbers of people are moving to the Alpine Shire region for a ‘tree change’ – relocating to the mountains for a lifestyle change, but often bringing their work with them as well. Where existing infrastructure has allowed them to, many have relocated entire businesses away from Melbourne. These are typically the businesses that are most excited about the NBN rollout, as it gives them better access to staff and customers.

Many traditional business challenges still apply, such as finding appropriately skilled staff and evolving business processes to keep up with industry changes. Clayton notes that new technology is not a panacea – while new tools can bring many benefits, they are still just one part of the mix for each business. As the NBN rollout continues, councils can play a valuable role as conduits during this period – linking local residents and businesses with relevant information, research and contacts.

Digital economy planning at Indigo Shire Council

For the latest in our series on local government Digital Economy planning, we spoke to Will Rickwood from Indigo Shire Council, covering the Beechworth, Chiltern, Rutherglen and Yackandandah regions.

 

Will talks about businesses in the Indigo Shire that have been highly active online: from the earliest days of the web, to the widespread adoption of social media. Will discusses examples such as web developers WWW.ART (previously covered in our Case Study series here) and Beechworth’s Bridge Road Brewers (who have built a strong following on both Facebook and Twitter). Winemakers from around Beechworth and Rutherglen have also combined blogs, websites, Facebook and Twitter to promote the region online.

Successful businesses share a willingness to innovate and find new ways to improve their business promotions, online sales, and access a variety of other advantages. Barriers to the adoption of online tools include skill shortages within businesses, and a lack of time to explore them properly – especially among small retailers. Local government also has an important role to play in raising awareness and providing training to businesses, in order to prepare them for the digital economy.

The Indigo Shire also contains numerous examples of how the local community can work to promote their region online, such as the Beechworth Online website, official visitor guide and mobile app. The council  hopes to apply this approach to online tourism promotions to other areas across the region.

Kiewa Valley Engineering – process and systems innovation

Kiewa Valley Engineering is a family business in Wodonga, where they have been involved in the Structural Steel industry for over 35 years. We spoke to Dave Robin about the online technologies that are used in this manufacturing sector business.

Business overview

KVE are a proud Australian family business with more than 35 years experience as a Structural Steel Manufacturer. We offer advanced manufacturing capability, with domain specialisation in four industry sectors; Power (T&D), Transport & Infrastructure, Mining/Resources and Commercial/Building.

Over our long association with the Structural Steel Industry, KVE has developed many systems and processes to enable ‘best practice’ to be developed, encompassing all facets of our business including quality, manufacturing, pricing, and certification & training of our excellent staff. Our internal IT&T systems ensure transparency, high degrees of automation and manufacturing excellence. Our current pricing system has matured significantly, to the extent that it is now an end-to-end process with extremely accurate cost of manufacture. That allows us to be confident that we are offering the most competitive cost structure whilst still delivering the highest levels of quality and manufacturing, on time, every time.

Tell us about the web technologies you are using in the business

  • We regularly use cloud based sharing software to transfer information from the Administration team out into the workshop.
  • We’re about to introduce a new timekeeping system, which will involve tablet computers feeding information into a database in real time.
  • Our new communication system is in the final stages of implementation, and will rely heavily on high speed internet to enable services like video conferencing and desktop sharing.

What benefits have you gained from using these tools?

By using cloud based sharing software, we have dramatically reduced the amount of paper pushed into the workshop. We hope to continuously improve this, so that eventually the workshop will be completely paper free. Also, by using the tablets to feed information into our database we replace the need to use day cards, and can remove the lag between data entry and reporting on that information. Our new communication system will improve our ability to actively share ideas easier and demonstrate alternate approaches to our clients, particularly through desktop sharing.

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the NBN arrives?

The NBN will enhance all the web based systems we currently have in place, resulting in a more efficient workplace, and better communication with our clients.

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies?

Anything is possible with the use of the internet. Keep track of best practice in all aspects of your business, and continually look for ways to improve your business processes, systems and practice.

Do you work in the manufacturing sector? We’d love to hear how your business is evolving to use the range of new tools that are becoming available – leave a comment below, or contact us via our Case Study form.

Digital Local Government at the City of Moreland

In our latest update, we speak to Peter Fitz – project manager for Moreland City Council‘s Digital Local Government project, in Brunswick. Brunswick is home to one of the early test sites for the NBN, and the council is looking at how the network can be used most effectively.

 

Moreland Council will use the NBN to improve their customer service via a tool called Moreland Connect. This allows residents to connect to council staff via a video-calling system, using computers at home or work. This allows staff to consult with residents about council issues, such as planning or service improvements. The project pilot is currently limited to the small NBN footprint, but will treble in size in the next 12 months .

An additional benefit will be the ability to film some of those customer encounters, with appropriate permissions, to create video stories that can be watched later – particularly important for after hours communications, when council offices and staff aren’t directly accessible. Later, they will also use the service to give people access to forms and other documents, allowing them to do business with the council after hours.

The service is funded by Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy, and will launch in October 2012; increasing in size over next 2.5 – 3 years. For Moreland, it marks a shift towards a more complete customer service experience.

Peter notes that YouTube is currently the second most popular social media site, attracting hundreds of millions of viewers – and it is an important area for local government to explore. However, the content that we put online will be important. “If we make things boring,” he explains, “no-one is going to use it. Part of our challenge is to increase the content, make it interesting, and use the medium.”

Earlier this week, we covered Peter’s award-winning work on “Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communications” – using visual storyboards and animations to communicate across language barriers. If you missed it, you can read that article here.

Web design and regional communities online, with WWW.ART

Our latest case study looks at Beechworth’s WWW.ART web design services – winners of the Excellence in Professional Services award at the 2012 Indigo Shire Business Awards. Owner/operator Fiona Larkings has been helping businesses across the region get online since launching her business 14 years ago.

Business overview

Since 1998, WWW.ART Design Services has built a strong portfolio of clients from many different industries across the region. We specialise in building cost effective easy to navigate, well-structured web sites for businesses and organisations of all sizes. We work closely with our clients to provide a personalised service, helping them to design and maintain effective, individually tailored websites.

We provide a wide range of services for our customers, from the design and construction of new sites, through to ongoing maintenance, social media integration and email marketing solutions. One of our earliest projects, the Beechworth.com community hub now has over 110 businesses and community organisations on the site, and attracts over 8,000 visitors each month.

Tell us about the web technologies you are using in the business

  • Our website acts as a showcase for our services, and a portfolio of our current work.
  • Google Analytics provides us with detailed statistics on our website traffic.
  • We’re familiar with a range of domain management systems and hosting technologies, which we use to register and manage client domains, and provide web hosting services for our clients.
  • An email marketing system helps us manage our mailing list and contacts.
  • We also have a business presence on social media services like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Using Webinars for training enables us to keep up with the latest changes in our industry, without constantly needing to travel to metropolitan areas.

What benefits have you gained from using these tools?   

We are an internet based business, so without access to these tools our business would not exist. Where possible, we aim to educate all of our clients about the benefits of using these technologies to help them grow their own businesses.

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the NBN arrives?

The increased speed the NBN offers will help us to do better business, and provide faster delivery of speed for client websites.

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies? 

When setting up a website, find a professional website designer/developer that knows about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Rather than thinking about how the website looks and then later discovering that it doesn’t work, these two elements should work together. Your website developer should also be able to clearly explain the elements required to construct a website, so that you know what you are paying for.

Make sure that your website allows you to update your own content, or that your developer provides support if you find this too difficult. All businesses need to have an online presence so that they can be found in this fast moving world.

You can find out more about WWW.Art through their website, Facebook page or Twitter account.