Australian businesses unprepared for technological upheaval

THE Australian business community may not be prepared for the upheaval it faces over the next two decades, according to the latest MYOB report. 

The latest MYOB Future of Business Report: The Age of Change found that 40 per cent of local business operators believe the nature of their industry will be significantly changed by technology in the next 10 years.

Just 17 per cent of local business operators anticipate no technology-driven change over that period.

MYOB Chief Technical Advisor and Futurist, Simon Raik-Allen, who authored the latest report in MYOB's Future of Business series, says although businesses are expecting technology-driven change to come quickly, it's less clear how well prepared they'll be for it.

"With the advent of the information age, we've been living with the concept of constant change in business for more than two decades," Simon Raik-Allen says.

"Businesses have - in the main - accepted that and can plan for it. What they may not be ready for is the next stage. Technology isn't just about to disrupt certain industries. It is poised to change the way we perceive and interact with the world."

According to the report, the business operators who believe their industries are most likely to be transformed by technology work in finance and insurance (53 per cent), manufacturing and wholesale (44 per cent), retail and hospitality (43 per cent) or are part of the tourism industry (42 per cent). Even in the country's rural sector, only 13 per cent of business operators are not expecting to see any change in the next decade.

The key trends that business operators expect will alter their industry cover a broad range of technologies, from improvements in connectivity and cloud computing, to robotics and machine learning.

Mr Raik-Allen says in a short a time as five years, many businesses will face complete transformation.

"Take for example, the construction industry," Mr Raik-Allen says.

"In Australia, just 36 per cent of construction and trades business owners believe the nature of their industry will be significantly changed by technology in the next ten years. Yet, with the latest advances in machine intelligence and 3D printing, it is an area that is ripe for transformation."

"We're already seeing modular construction begin to transform the way homes are designed and built. It is a short step from there to having buildings 3D printed right on site, or created and packaged at a single factory, and delivered by an autonomous vehicle before being assembled by robots."

Mr Raik-Allen says the issue in the local market is that, although Australian business operators can imagine the possibility of change, many are currently struggling to keep up with technology.

"Few local businesses see themselves as early adopters or fast followers of newly introduced innovations - most tend to wait until they are widely adopted, putting themselves behind the curve," he says.

"They also see many barriers to innovation - from costs and red tape to a shortage of skilled staff - which will restrict how prepared businesses are to manage the technological changes we'll see over the next decade."

In your opinion, what are the barriers your business faces when it comes to innovation?

Cost to develop or introduce 27%
Too much Government regulation 22%
Not enough time to innovate 19%
Shortage of skilled personnel 16%
Lack of Government support 13%
Lack of R&D funding 8%
No barriers affect my business when it comes to innovation 15%
My business does not require innovation 18%
Source: MYOB Business Monitor, April 2017

"But in a world where a robot tractor can plough a field and repair a fence line, a robotic plumber can fix your toilet, a drone can deliver a coffee made by an automatic barista, AI can scan and approve a contract and a holographic projector can let you visit any place in the world, what place is there for a business that delivers any of these services today?" Simon Raik-Allen says.

"Even though the details of the disruption each business will face is - as yet - unknown, the best predictor for long term success is the ability of a business operator to recognise the potential for change and move quickly to respond."

"And technology too may hold the key. If you find yourself working in an industry that no longer offers a role for someone with your skills and experience, you'll be able to download the neural training package from the brain store, plug it in and congratulations, you're now a lawyer!"