Speech to OECD Digital for SMEs Steering Group

I’d like to thank the co-organisers of the Digital for SMEs (D4SME), the OECD, and Business at OECD. I’d also like to thank all participants who travelled to Paris for this meeting, and those who are connected online across world regions. 

I’d also like to acknowledge my predecessor Hon Stuart Nash, who was instrumental in establishment of this group with the OECD. On a personal level from owning businesses, I especially realise the importance of having good digital skill and capabilities at the SME level.

We are blessed here in New Zealand to have Ultra-Fast Broadband, and we are lucky to have such a strong digital backbone. We want SMEs to make the most of the tools that UFB enables to utilise this technology effectively.

As many of you will know, the OECD D4SME Global Initiative was launched in November 2019 to encourage the public and private sector to work together, to better enable SMEs to make the most of the ongoing digital transformation.  

This initiative has responded to this ambition, growing into an international public-private approach on SME digitalisation. The value of this work was evident during the COVID -19 pandemic, which highlighted the urgency of accelerating SME digitalisation.  

This initiative continues to be important as economies recover from the pandemic, and economies and societies navigate rough waters created by that event. 

Adapting and adopting digital technologies require SMEs and entrepreneurs to make major changes in the way they do business. SMEs need to invest in technologies, data and intangible assets, adapt their management practices and organisational models, and develop workforce skills.  

Many SMEs continue to lag behind larger firms in accessing and using data and digital technologies, which means missed opportunities to innovate and scale up, and growing productivity gaps. 

Digitalisation of SMEs continues to be a priority for our incoming government in New Zealand, and a particular focus for me across my small business, manufacturing, commerce and consumer portfolios. I intend to work with the sector to increase the level of digitalisation with a view to improving productivity. A recent report found that an increase in SME digitalisation in New Zealand could result in an increase of $8.5 billion in GDP. 

To date, New Zealand has established several initiatives specifically for SMEs. In response to COVID-19, New Zealand developed the Digital Boost programme, which provides SMEs with capability support through a free online learning platform and diagnostic tool that assesses their online presence. 

Part of Digital Boost is the Digital Boost Alliance – this is a collaboration between the Government and private sector organisations. 

The Digital Boost Alliance has made a significant contribution to increasing digital enablement in New Zealand.  Alliance members offer New Zealanders discounted or free product and services, assistance with digital training, and support for communities to understand the value of being digitally capable. These commitments are substantive, and cumulatively represent millions in savings or value. 

Members include companies like Microsoft, all our major banks, Facebook, the telcos, and our two largest small business accounting platforms, as well as many other companies. 

An August 2022 independent evaluation found that 23 per cent of businesses reported improved revenue after using the Digital Boost platform and for those who engage weekly with the platform, this lifted to 39 per cent of businesses. 80 per cent of Digital Boost businesses also now have a website. 

Over 1000 videos have been made available to over 65,000 individual Digital Boost users and we have reached over 39,000 individual small businesses through this programme.  

79 per cent of Digital Boost users would recommend Digital Boost to others, and 39 per cent of weekly users reporting an increase in revenue.  

I recognise that many other economies here today are also delivering comprehensive support in this area. That’s why it’s so important that the D4SME Initiative exists, as it allows us to share knowledge and learn from each other’s challenges and successes. 

While current policy attention may be focused on short to mid-term challenges, such as high energy prices, inflation and disruptions in supply chains, it is essential not to lose sight of longer-term objectives, look into the structural reforms that are needed to strengthen SMEs resilience and sustainability.  

I am extremely proud of New Zealand’s long-standing involvement in this forum and applaud Italy for taking forward the chairmanship of this valuable initiative.  

The D4SME Initiative will continue to provide an important contribution, to understanding opportunities and challenges in the digital journey for SMEs. 

Thank you for your time. Tena koutou katoa.