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    Adding Value in the Digital Economy: Australia's TPO Experience

     

     
     
    This is an example of a TPO that has assessed the IT skills of its clients, and is adapting its services to take adavantage of an increasingly digital economy.
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2000

    While the recent international interest in Australia has been focused on it playing host to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, not only has Australia been busy producing sporting heroes, of which we are extremely proud, we are continually working to produce global business heroes in our business community.

    Austrade, the Australian Federal Government's export facilitation agency, has a lead role to ensure that Australian businesses embrace the benefits of international trade, especially in the era of the "Information Age Revolution". Although many Australian exporters are already leaders in understanding the benefits of adapting their business to the Information Age, Austrade has a key role in focusing on small and medium-size exporters, including those in rural and regional Australia.

    Information age trends shape Austrade

    The information age has fundamentally changed business operations and the dynamics of the global economy. It is also profoundly changing the way Austrade does business, and the type of business we are in. Trends influencing us include:
    • Speed. The Internet and improved tele-communications enable companies to do business quickly and more efficiently.
    • Constant change. Product/service life cycles are getting shorter. Business practices are changing more rapidly.
    • Formation of networks. The Internet is allowing geographically dispersed companies to 'meet' online, in electronic market places, industry portals, virtual project teams and knowledge-sharing communities.
    • E-commerce. Companies have a range of ways of selling and buying online, whether directly from their web site or via independent parties.
    • Increased importance of knowledge sharing. The speed of business and the pressure to continually innovate raises the value of differentiated intellectual capital.
    • Erosion of distinction between 'domestic' and 'international' business. Customers of domestic businesses can now buy from abroad if they want to. Similarly a web site set up for domestic customers can reach foreign customers if it wants to.

    Australian exporters are 'wired'

    A recent survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that Australian exporters are already 'highly wired'.
    • We know that more than two-thirds have access to the Internet, compared to a little over 25% of non-exporters.
    • More than four times as many exporters have their own web sites as non-exporters.
    • Two-thirds of exporters use e-mail, compared to around 25% of non-exporters.

    Implications

    Knowing that our client base is already plugged into the information age presents a challenge for Austrade. The implications for Austrade are that we have to:
    • Change the content of our advice. Companies need more advice on e-commerce and e-markets.
    • Change the way we deliver services. Two-thirds of our clients have e-mail and Internet access.
    • Improve the quality of our advice and information. Companies can find information on the Internet, therefore we must provide them with differentiated information.
    • Become responsive to our clients. We need to use our web site and database tools to know more about our clients, their preferences and their behaviour patterns.

    Our trade promotion tools for a digital age

    We have appointed an e-commerce adviser; improved our web site; developed e-communities; delivered e-trade seminars to Australian businesses; and pioneered a business matchmaking club, tagged to the recent Olympic games.

    E-commerce adviser

    Austrade began implementing its information age strategy by appointing an e-commerce adviser to strategically drive the development of many of its e-commerce related tools.

    The Australian Government's Office of Government Online requires an online action plan for all government agencies showing how agencies will meet the government's target date of December 2001, for "all appropriate Government services" to be online. Austrade expects to meet, and in many cases exceed, this requirement.

    Enhancing Austrade's web site

    The first major task of the e-commerce adviser has been to rebuild Austrade's web site as a portal of information for exporters and potential exporters. Austrade has been providing a web-based service to its clients since 1995, and the site has been through many major revisions as we learn more about the needs of our clients and as the online world matures.

    Our aim is not to be an organization with a web site, but an organization whose web site is fundamentally incorporated into everything we do, and reflects our key asset, which is our global network of offices.

    We made basic improvements, such as increasing the bandwidth and embarking on a web marketing campaign. The result was immediately evident: the number of hits per month surpassed 3 million, and the number of user sessions jumped from 30,000 to over 60,000.

    Increasingly, the web site is also a vehicle for service delivery. We are providing web tutorials on the site for Australian business. We also feature 8,000 companies through "Australia On Display". Australian companies can place information on their product or service on a searchable database, providing potential customers with the opportunity to look up and source Australian exports over the net from anywhere in the world. A company's presence on the site can range from a simple listing, to a hyperlink to its own site, or an enhanced listing with the company logo and placement within an industry classification.

    Developing e-communities

    Our web site is also a forum for sharing insights within the growing online export community. Austrade has been trialing e-communities. For example, the opportunity to assist in the redevelopment of the newly independent East Timor was a topic of much interest in Australia. Austrade developed and moderated an e-community for companies interested in this area.

    The advantage of e-communities over their off-line counterparts is that anyone in Australia or the world can be a member, at any time. They benefit from the network effects of 'many-to-many' communications and are a means of sharing and 'growing' knowledge faster.

    E-seminars for business executives

    We developed a three-hour workshop aimed at SMEs which seek an introduction to e-commerce and its relevance to exporting. Austrade has run over 72 of these workshops in both metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. The workshop covers key questions such as:

    • How do I assess the global market using e-commerce tools?
    • How do I market my product using e-commerce?
    • Is it possible to close the deal electronically?
    • Can I source and deliver products via the Internet?
    • How can I provide after-sales service via the Internet?
    • What about export assistance?
    • What help is available for getting started in e-commerce?

    Business Club Australia - virtual club

    To leverage the benefits of hosting the Olympic Games in Sydney in September, Austrade developed a world-first Olympics-related global networking club - Business Club Australia.

    The club's key objective was to assist Australian and international business people to network in a positive and dynamic environment, built around the excitement of the Sydney 2000 Games. We did this by recruiting a membership of more than 16,000 international buyers and potential investors, and representatives of Australian companies, as well as VIPs and media members.

    These people became members of the club, which has operated through its web site for over 18 months - offering a member-only zone for online business services and networking. The online member database, business services and business matching area are important components of the virtual club, ensuring that businesses of any size, in any part of Australia, can benefit from membership.

    Julia Selby is Executive General Manager, Australian Operations and South Pacific, Austrade. This article was adapted from her presentation at the third World Conference of Trade Promotion Organizations. She can be reached at J.Selby@austrade.gov.au