If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know how I feel about the ability of technology to empower individuals, helping the excluded to be more involved in society, encouraging involvement in decision making and democracy, and much more.
What I’m thinking about this week though, is the gap between the organisations – especially small businesses or charities – that are making the most of digital, and those that aren’t.
Our Community How To website was launched with the support of Nominet Trust in November 2012 and continues to encourage third sector organisations to make the most of the free/low cost digital tools out there which could help them do more of what they do best.
More recently, we ran a pilot project with Lloyds, which supported SMEs in the North East of England with their digital skills, and which led to some very interesting findings that we reported at the end of last year – you can read the full report here.
I believe the UK online centres network could and should be continuing to do more to bolster their communities by targeting and supporting local organisations in this way, and it’s something we’re continuing to explore with network partners. For instance, some of our Lloyds lessons will be put into action on a new project with Prince’s Countryside Fund, working with SMEs in rural areas – I expect to tell you more about this and our broader rural work very soon.
What’s been really heartening is to see that government – particularly the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – recognises this as an important area, too.
I’m sure many of you will have seen the billboards around the country, declaring that #BusinessisGREAT and these are all part of the BIS run campaign, Do More Online, which itself is part of the department’s Small Business Digital Capability Programme.
Targeting small businesses and sole traders, Do More Online is helping them find the support they need to do the basics like online banking or establishing a social media presence, to more complex things like setting up a website and using SEO.
The stats for this stuff (which you know I love) are pretty compelling. Close to half of all the small businesses in the UK don’t yet use the internet for their business. That’s about two million businesses – sole traders, or firms with just a few employees – that could be benefitting from having their business online. 33% of business lack basic digital skills, and 29% believe being online isn’t relevant to them. In contrast, 60% of small businesses who are online say the internet helps them attract more customers, and 78% say it saves them time.
The Do More Online campaign has gathered together resources at www.greatbusiness.gov.uk/domoreonline and is working with our friends at Go ON UK to provide a whole host of resources for businesses wanting to do more online, at www.digitalskills.com/business.
Coming from a major government department, it might be easy to think that the campaign is all about companies building websites and submitting VAT returns online. Of course, that’s part of it, but if you do check out the above links, you’ll soon realise it can also all be much simpler than that.
With advice on making the most of social media for your business, setting up an eBay or Etsy account, and the basics of online banking, it should be clear that what many of us might consider basic steps online can make a big difference to businesses that aren’t currently part of our digital age.
And so I believe that what works in terms of digital inclusion for individuals can work for organisations too – local delivery, flexibility and partnerships with key intermediaries. The required skills might be a bit different – but I think our current work is proving that the UK online centres model can work and work well with this new audience.
Although it’s early days for Do More Online, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the campaign continues to progress in 2015, and how we can offer the support and expertise of the UK online centres network to help it along.