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Digital divide an issue facing small businesses

February 16, 2021

The threat of digital exclusion facing small businesses in Napier and the rest of Hawke’s Bay is the focus of a research project by EIT and InternetNZ.

The research, which is being done by Dr Emre Erturk, the Principal Academic Staff Member at EIT’s School of Computing, is examining how digital exclusion could affect the quality of life for local small businesses owners and managers and stymie the success of their businesses.

Dr Erturk says that it is globally recognised that small businesses are at greater risk of digital exclusion compared with companies.

“Managers of these operations also form an at-risk group on a personal level, possibly due to a relative lack of skills and resources, in comparison with their larger business counterparts.”

“This is not only a social challenge but also an economic setback since small and medium enterprises make up a significant portion of New Zealand’s productive engine,” he says.

There are areas in Hawke’s Bay with lower digital inclusion because many small business owners and employees include seniors, immigrants, young students, and Māori, who may not yet be in possession of favourable computer skills and also face difficult socio-economic circumstances.

Dr Erturk says this can be amplified depending on the rural or regional location of the business.

The project, which began last year and runs until the middle of this year, is being funded by InternetNZ, the national custodian of the .nz internet domain.

The objective of the project is to examine how the so-called Digital Divide is affecting small businesses and to offer these businesses guidance and online resources to enhance their operations.

“The drive for this research initiative was magnified through conversations with a variety of community stakeholders, including the Napier City Council, which is interested in the digital city, digital citizen concept.”

“There is a recognition and realisation by some local small businesses that their digital capabilities play a role in their long-term survival and profitability. This was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, which made digital inclusion a day-to-day concern. Farmers and food producers are also affected by the Digital Divide through lower levels of access to broadband and computer equipment,” he says.

About 20 small businesses from a cross-section of industry are being approached to participate in the survey. They will be questioned on, among other things, their Internet and computer use as well as the specific components and tasks involved during use such as the website, social media, advertising, selling, storing, and sharing documents.

“Typically, businesses experiencing digital inclusion will incrementally add new applications and functions while the digital excluded ones may not use and abandon what they have. “

“New Zealand is not the only developed country in the world where the Digital Divide is of concern and this makes it even more urgent for us to gather more data and continue the public and academic discussion,” Dr Erturk says.

The initial focus of the project is the greater Napier area, but will expand to Hastings and then more rural areas.