Australia's IT industry has given the National Broadband Network a much-needed vote of confidence, with an Access Economics study released today revealing that the more tech-savvy of Australia's business community expect to yield significant benefit from the roll-out.
A survey of 540 firms from 17 industry groups commissioned by Macquarie Telecom found that over half of Australian organisations expected the NBN to produce a "change in the way they do business".
The study found that 91 percent of respondents said the NBN would enable staff to work from a range of locations (such as from home or from regional Australia).
Some 86 percent expected the network build to help with global sourcing of skilled staff. And 88 percent expected it would enable more investment in a mobile sales and support workforce.
There were strong indications in the survey, said Macquarie Telecom CEO David Tudehope, that Australian businesses expected to be able to "compete better" and expand both geographic coverage and target markets as a result of the rollout.
Tudehope said that whilst some studies had attempted to gauge impacts on residential broadband use, the impact on the business community had not been adequately measured.
But the report also conceded that a more quantitive study of the impact of the NBN on the business community was yet to surface.
Rather than focus on traditional economic metrics such as GDP (gross domestic product), the Access Economics study only focused on the "mood" or "sentiment" of the business community.
GDP growth, said Access Economics director Dr Ric Symes, was "only part of the story".
"The benefits are dispersed through the economy," he said. "A lot of changes go beyond GDP growth - it does not measure the welfare benefits of improved convenience and choice of services, or the benefits of deeper engagement in society."
He nonetheless expected the NBN to enable productivity improvements higher than the 0.2 to 0.3 percent additional impact the Productivity Commission measured from advances in IT and telecommunications in the 1980s and 1990s.
"That is a big number – a few billion dollars a year," he said. "Most of our reading of existing evidence and this survey would point to the likelihood that the impact of high speed broadband on the economy and society will be larger than those previous changes."
Dr Symes said survey respondents expected more competitors in an NBN-enabled world, but that this should not be seen as an argument against the network build.
Tudehope applied this scenario to his own industry. He said that NBN legislation approved in Parliament "levels the playing field in terms of competition" in the telecommunications market by removing the vertical integration of Telstra.
Similarly, Macquarie Telecom's hosting business would benefit from a more accelerated movement toward centralised computing in data centres – as the "speed between hosts and a business' branches will be like they are in the same room."
Tudehope said he was "quite comfortable that there were swings and roundabouts" when it came to the benefits and risks for the industry.
"You can't have this kind of step-change", he said, "without having to write-off a few assets."
IT industry chuffed
Responses to the survey indicated that the IT industry in particular would benefit from the NBN and associated reforms.
Indeed, responses to the survey appeared skewed towards those industries that had the most immediate benefit from higher speed broadband and the computational power that it could access.
Some 32 percent of respondents were from "professional, scientific and technical services" which Macquarie Telecom conceded were "predominantly IT consultants."
Chief Technical Officers and Chief Information Officers were the most common respondents, followed by HR and finance staff.
Comparing the data to ABS figures, Access Economics conceded that respondents were more likely to be "technologically savvy firms."
The respondents that expected the most impact from the NBN were unsurprisingly utilities (for the rollout of smart-grids), the IT, media and telecoms industries, education and training, retail and healthcare.
The finance sector – already served well by fibre links in major CBDs – were halfway down the list among mining, construction and agriculture.
Some 94.1 percent of respondents said the NBN would enable greater collaboration with partners, suppliers and customers.
Roughly one in five companies said they had invested in supply chain optimisation projects today, but almost one in three expected they would in an NBN-enabled world. A similar metric applied to the use of multi-channel contact centres.
Similarly, the survey revealed that businesses investing in customer analytics enabled by high performance computing could rise from 24.4 percent today to 43.5 percent with an NBN in place.