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If there’s one subset of SMEs in this country who are truly embracing new technologies – with a massive payoff to boot – it’s the winners and finalists of the 2014 Telstra Australian Business Awards.

Ahead of the national finals to be held in Melbourne on 7 August, the 172 state and territory winners and finalists of this year’s awards were surveyed on their capabilities around improving productivity, customer service, and profit.

Key findings included:

  • 78 per cent of businesses report digital tools improve their customer service capabilities;
  • 77 per cent use cloud computing to set up more flexible virtual offices and to collaborate remotely (an increase of eight per cent over last year’s Awards finalists).

It was also found that social media investment is now firmly the norm among top-performing businesses. Some 84 per cent of businesses use Facebook, and 62 per cent of businesses using LinkedIn to attract and retain customers and enter new markets. In fact one fifth of respondents credited more than 10 per cent of their total annual sales to their social media activity.

As James Organ, cofounder of Fifth Quadrant – the 2013 Telstra NSW Business of the Year – attests, digital is a fundamental part of their business because many of their clients struggle to successfully implement and integrate their digital and customer experience strategies.

Furthermore, businesses are seeing improvements to the bottom line, with 48 per cent of businesses reporting profit increases and 41 per cent reporting lower operating costs, as a direct outcome of embracing digital.

Lindsay Collison, who co-founded pre-sale building and pest inspection services provider Residential Reports with his daughter Kelly Hill, said moving from a paper-based to digital environment brought instant benefits.

“Six or seven years ago we embraced technology and it catapulted our business forward. When we went electronic it increased our workflow and output by 30 to 40 per cent almost immediately. Now we are using social media as a way of communicating with the wider community,” Mr Collison, 2013 Telstra ACT Small Business Awards winner said.

Will Irving from Telstra commented that these successful businesses are realising the wealth of opportunities presented by digital disruption, embracing new technologies and turning traditional business models upside down.

“The rise of the digital economy has significantly changed the way we do business, but with this change comes extraordinary opportunity… [these] entrepreneurs are using digital innovation to push the boundaries and come up with new ideas to grow their customer base and rethink entire industry models,” Mr Irving said.