OKI Data Australia, a global manufacturer of business printers and multifunction devices, has released the second annual OKI Australia SME Business Efficiency Survey.
The survey provides insights into how the nation’s two million small and mid-sized firms are striving to become more competitive and cost efficient and how perceptions have changed during the past 12 months.
Conducted during September, the survey targeted 1600 SMEs across all Australian states. Each was asked to complete a detailed online form and provide input on a range of topics including business efficiency, expenditure on technology and concerns over costs.
The survey found that just over three quarters of Australian SMEs (75.6 per cent) believe their businesses are being run efficiently. This is similar to the result obtained from the inaugural Business Efficiency Survey conducted at the same time last year.
Interestingly, 64.6 per cent of the surveyed group said they had implemented new initiatives to improve cost efficiency during the past year. This is a significant increase from the 45 per cent of SMEs that reported doing so last year. A further 13.4 per cent said they were intending to undertake such initiatives during the next 12 months.
“This survey has provided a fascinating insight into how Australian SMEs are tackling the challenge of business efficiency improvement,” said Antonio Leone, Marketing Manager ANZ, OKI Data Australia.
“Our research found a lack of finance was the primary challenge faced by 30 per cent of SMEs trying to realise greater efficiencies. This was followed by skill challenges, nominated by 25 per cent and being unaware of any alternatives identified by 13.8 per cent.”
The survey uncovered some interesting views when it comes to the areas in which SMEs consider their operations to be inefficient. Of those who responded, 34.2 per cent nominated their website, apps and e-commerce facilities as the greatest source of inefficiency. This was closely followed by IT, technology and online business systems that were flagged by 32.9 per cent. Other areas included digital marketing and online advertising (27.8 per cent) and HR staffing costs and productivity (25.3 per cent).
When asked about the topic of business technology, 75.6 per cent of survey respondents said they considered finding new ways to implement it a key opportunity for competitive advantage. However, somewhat counter intuitively, 62.2 per cent said they were not planning to undertake a technological improvement campaign during the next 12 months.
When asked to nominate the areas in which they had made investments to improve efficiency during the past year, 71 per cent said it had been the area of IT, technology and online business systems. A further 27.4 per cent pointed to their website, apps and e-commerce systems.
“These results show that, although SMEs understand they can achieve efficiency improvements through investment in new technology, only just over a third have plans to do so,” said Leone. “This could lead to growth constraints during the coming 12 months for some organisations.”
The survey found the majority of Australian SMEs (58.5 per cent) typically spend up to $5000 a year on technology to improve efficiency. The key factors considered before making a purchase were usability, cost and ease of implementation.
A further 29.3 per cent of respondents reported they spend between $5,000 and $15,000 each year while only 9.8 per cent spend between $15,000 and $50,000. Just 2.4 per cent spend more than $100,000 each year. Interestingly, when asked whether they would invest more money in additional technologies to increase business efficiency, 53.1 per cent of respondents said no.
The survey also asked respondents to indicate where any savings being achieved through the use of new technologies are being allocated. It found 37.1 per cent were saving the money in a ‘rainy day fund’. A further 16.1 per cent said they were investing the money in innovation or gaining a competitive advantage while the same number were allocating the funds to additional marketing activities.
Respondents were asked to consider where, during the past 12 months, they had found it most difficult to see a return on investment. The area of IT, technology and online business systems was flagged by 31.5 per cent of respondents followed by digital marketing and online advertising (24.1 per cent). A resounding 91.5 per cent of respondents said they considered cost efficiency a critical factor when considering the cost of maintaining technology.
“The survey clearly shows that Australian SMEs believe cost-effective technology is a critical factor when trying to achieve efficiency improvements,” said Leone. “However, many are finding themselves restricted by budget limitations and frustrated by not having achieved expected returns from money already invested. I look forward to comparing these results with future surveys to determine how Australian SMEs are approaching the ongoing challenge of business efficiency improvement.”