Enhancing innovative capabilities and sustainability of regional/rural Australian SMEs through Web 2.0-enabled social networking activities


  • University of South Australia & University of Melbourne

  • 2013

  • Dr Nina Evans (University of South Australia) & Dr Rachelle Bosua (University of Melbourne)

Description/Objectives

This research project aimed to explore how the innovative capabilities and sustainability of regional and rural Australian small and medium enterprises (SMES) can be enhanced through Web 2.0-enabled social networking activities.

The collaborative research team consisted of three members, including two researchers from the University of South Australia and one researcher from the Computing and Information Systems department in the School of Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

This project built on a previous pilot study by identifying gaps and barriers in SME capabilities to use Web 2.0 social networking tools and applications; designing and implementing an intervention program to help SMEs better use these tools; and assessing how the suggested interventions impacted on the SMEs' social networking.

A recent SENSIS e-Business report found that two thirds of Australian SMEs have a web presence and 95% of Australian businesses were online compared to 23% in 1997 (SENSIS, 2014). Even though 69% of Australian SMEs with websites have reported improved effectiveness of their business, it is not clear how and to what extent regional SMEs benefit from Web 2.0 technologies to network and extend their social sustainability activities.  

This study had the following objectives:

1)        Identifying gaps and barriers in regional SME capabilities to use Web 2.0-enabled social networking tools and applications,

2)        Designing and implementing an intervention program that will enable SMEs to better exploit Web 2.0-enabled tools and applications, and

3)        Assessing how increased awareness and understanding of the power of networking and Web 2.0 tools impact on SMEs capabilities to extend their social networking and enhance innovation.

Results Achieved

Overall the project achieved the planned outcomes in all but one of the areas proposed in the original plan.  Proposed activities included: an initial ethics approval, a literature review, participant recruitment, data collection in two areas from Victoria and South Australia, data transcribing and an in-depth data analysis followed by the identification of key themes.

Part of the planned activities was a series of workshops to be held in the various regional areas, followed by the development of websites for SMEs that required websites or who haven’t yet invested in a web presence. However, the last activity of developing a web presence for these SMEs was considered unnecessary. The recruitment of specific SMEs to participate in the study indicated that most of the SMEs contacted already had a simple static website or a dynamic website. Hence there was no need to develop websites for the SMEs that participated in the study.  

As a result, both Chief Investigators (CIs) could devote more effort to the data analysis to understand how each SME drew on its web presence to network and interact through its social networks, and how each SME used social networking tools for social business sustainability.  

What worked well?

Both CIs (Dr. Nina Evans from University of South Australia and Dr. Rachelle Bosua from The University of Melbourne), are passionate about SMEs, in particular regional SMEs.  This grant therefore contributed greatly to both CI’s understanding of the problems in terms of barriers regional SMEs’s face to conduct their business and networking. In particular, a number of key problems with respect to ‘being regional’ were identified which will form the basis for a planned PhD study in this area. 

In particular, findings of this study were surprising from a manufacturing perspective. Most of the organisations that participated in the study were engineering organisations and findings indicated that dramatic changes in the mining industry forced many SMEs to diversify and extend their operations into new business areas. A number of participants described the challenges their business faced to retain their competitive advantage in this volatile business

How were obstacles overcome?

There were no specific obstacles or difficulties faced during the course of conducting this project.  Both CIs on the project are experienced case study researchers and are used to the many different contingencies brought about by conducting qualitative research.  One aspect that was not a difficulty, but rather an inconvenience, was the logistics of having to travel to regional areas to conduct the face-to-face interviews. This required careful planning ahead of time in terms of arranging flights and being able to align these activities with each of the CI’s academic activities and other university-related responsibilities. Once the data has been analysed, a second visit was required to deliver workshops in each of the regional areas. Fortunately, the various regional development boards (or RDAs) were most helpful in arranging the dates, times and venues and inviting participants to attend.

Publications/Links

i)               A conference paper was finalized and presented by Dr. Evans at the European Conference on Knowledge Management (ECKM) in September 2014 in Portugal.

Evans N, and Bosua R. (2014). The process of knowledge absorption - case studies in regional Australia. The 15th European Conference on Knowledge Management, Portugal, 13-14 September, Santarem, Portugal.

ii)             A Journal paper has been submitted to the Journal of Small Business Management, which is an A-level ERA, ranked journal:

Bosua R, and Evans N. (2014). Knowledge Sharing and the use of Social Media Networks in Regional Australian SMEs. Submitted to the Journal of Small Business Management,.

 iii)           A third journal paper is currently in draft form and will be submitted to the International Small Business Journal, which is an A-level ERA, ranked journal.

Evans N, and Bosua R. (2014). Social Sustainability of regional Australian SMEs: Barriers and Capabilities.

Another round of deeper data analysis and an in-depth review of the literature is currently being conducted by both researchers.  They also aim to publish a paper with the findings in a peer reviewed journal.  The project has been extended until January 2016 to expand the findings.

 

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