With 12 keynote speakers and 58 breakout and poster presentations the conference offers the chance to interact with some of Australia’s most innovative business leaders, academics and regional development organisations, as well as farmers and farmer peak bodies, to set the scene and increase general awareness of delegates across a range of challenges and opportunities. See Professor David Lamb from UNE talking about the Conference running in Armidale 26-28 June 2013.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We recently spoke with Michelle Moore and Bruce Connolly from Moira Shire Council, about regional businesses that are embracing the digital economy. We’ll be documenting Moira Shire’s new Economic Development strategy over the next 12 months – this will take the form of an interactive document, with the capactity to use technology like QR codes and online videos.
Michelle and Bruce discussed local case studies such as a Yarrawonga retailer that has broadened their markets by selling online. Since taking the business online two years ago, they have increased their turnover by 60%, and now sell to markets around the world. The business owners looked at their environment and saw increasing pressure on retailers, and a need to adapt. Expanding their range and selling products online allowed the business to increase their sales while still maintaining their desired lifestyle, living in a regional town. Bruce notes that many country businesses are inherently conservative, and reluctant to adopt new business models – though recent examples show that there are many benefits to doing so.
The council also sees potential to improve collaboration and networking among regional business owners. Local micro-producers work to sell value-added products at the farm gate, and have begun promoting their activities online. Websites like Sun Country Food and Wine give producers the ability to sell their products online. Call to action – when food is showcased at expos and shows.
The shift to a digital economy still has its challenges. Micro producers often don’t have much time to explore the range of new technologies that their business could be using. Marketing and promotion is another factor – it’s important to get the word out there, letting customers know that these products are now available online.
Councils are likely to have the greatest role to play in assisting local businesses to make this change, by showing them how they can use new tools to increase their market share, access new markets, and improve production and profitability.
It’s also important to note that when opening up new markets, many of the ‘old rules’ still apply. Understanding people and culture are critical when expanding into new areas, such as new export markets. Respect cultures, build relationships and embrace technology to enhance these relationships.
We spoke to Peter Fitz at Moreland City Council, about the importance of visual content online, and how to make your content compelling. Peter’s work on Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communication(CALDCOM) has recently won the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s Award for customer service excellence, and the National Multicultural Marketing Award for the Government Category.
Moreland is an extremely diverse council region, where residents speak 132 language groups, and half of the local households speak a language other than English at home. The council initially had translated material available for eight languages, leaving the others to ‘fend for themselves.’
Simple messages and using vision conveys a lot more meaning than dot points on a website. The NBN enables this to be taken to the next level – taking whatever graphics you have and bring them to life. We’ve started animating our drawings, testing them with different migrant groups, neighbourhood house settings, ESL courses, and they work well. While the project began as a way of communicating with CALD audiences, it soon became apparent that this was a powerful tool for communicating with the wider community. People can learn about council business far more quickly via images and video.
The storyboard approach has helped address many community problems by helping to get issues from the classroom into conversations at home. Council service issues, such as improving recycling and reducing contamination, and social issues such as gambling, bullying and domestic violence have used this approach so far.
In a recent example, a truckload of asbestos-containing building materials were dumped on a roadside. When council staff arrived on the scene, they found children playing in the hazardous material. Door-knocking in the area revealed that only one of the 25 nearby households spoke English. The council has now created a storyboard that staff can use to quickly communicate the danger of handling asbestos waste.
The time and effort required to create a storyboard varies, depending on the complexity of the issue – though the cost of production and distribution is coming down, as better software and NBN access become available. Boards typically have 6-8 cells: introducing the issue, finishing with call to action, and tackling 2-3 things in between.
Visuals like storyboards and animations quickly convey meaning. Peter notes that writing for them is always a challenge, as you can’t do everything. Treat them as conversation starters instead, to get the audience thinking and asking questions. YouTube has shown that people can create small videos, without needing huge productions, that can can help to solve problems.
Following on from yesterday’s interview with Sue Beatty, we also spoke with Matt Taylor – acting Economic Development officer at City of Wodonga.
Wodonga is due to have NBN access in September 2014, and the council has been preparing for the digital economy over the past year. To date, they have already have conducted information sessions for local businesses, including visits to the Melbourne NBN Discovery Centre and the RMIT Advanced Manufacturing Precinct.
The council is currently planning a series of digital seminars with their local chamber of commerce, covering a range of topics including marketing skills and more effective use of business management functions.
Local businesses mostly fall into two categories: those on the “front foot” where new technologies are concerned, and those that worry about being overwhelmed. Matt’s advice for business managers is to embrace the change: look closely at what the digital economy can do for their business, and what they can do to utilise the digital economy to open up new markets – interacting not only with the local economy, but with markets across the country and overseas.
Some of Wodonga’s manufacturers, retailers and education bodies are already well positioned to take advantage of the digital economy. The council is looking at how they can most effectively facilitate introductions between these groups, helping to link businesses to the services and tools available to them.
We recently spoke to Sue Beatty, Community Relations Manager at Wodonga City Council. She explained how social media has become an important part of her council’s communication strategy.
Wodonga Council’s social media campaigns have allowed them to reach and engage with an audience that previously had little involvement with council services and affairs. They adopted a measured approach to building their social media presence – making sure that each development had been properly considered, and putting policies in place before acting.
Like many councils, one of Wodonga’s earliest social media forays involved a Facebook council page. In order to overcome initial difficulties in getting enough Likes for their content, they ran Facebook competitions that helped them attract more followers.
Wodonga Council was also the joint winner of the 2012 Government Communications Australia award for Best New or Digital Media. This award was received for their YouTube channel, featuring “Mrs Mac’s story time.” Every fortnight, new story book readings are added to the channel – watched by local primary school students, and a growing audience of fans around the world.
Sue’s advice to other councils that are considering their move into social media is to take your time making sure that you have appropriate processes in place. Resourcing is particularly important to consider – make sure you have the staff to react and respond as needed.
Local Government has an important leadership role to play in ensuring the digital economy becomes a reality in the region. We recently met with Murrindindi Shire Council (Economic Development Officer, Bob Elkington) and Strathbogie Shire Council (Economic Development Officer Phil Howard, and IT Manager Richard Bianco) to get their thoughts on the digital economy and the opportunities and challenges it presents.
Listen to the videos below to hear their thoughts.
Some recurring themes include:
Fear among the local community and local businesses about the digital economy
The lack of skills among many small organisations
The need for local governments to upskill, and to change their cultures to better embrace the digital economy
The need for champions, advocates and case studies highlighting those businesses and organisations that are maximising their use of the internet
The need to share skills, expertise and resources across organisations and to collaborate where possible; and to provide a framework to do that
The need to bring in outside expertise where skills don’t exist
The importance of getting the discussion started – what does the NBN and digital economy really mean for the region?
The need for innovation and creative thinking needed to take advantage of new ways of doing business
Examples were given of organisations effectively using the internet in the farming, tourism, equine, health, and leisure industries.