DIGITAL CONNECTIVITY not only drives productivity, it creates community a rural industry leader has argued.
Speaking at the Australian Farm Institute (AFI) Digitial Rural Futures conference, Agforce director and Beef producer, Georgie Sommerset said it was useful to reflect on how much technology had changed.
“In 30 years we’ve gone from walking to the fax machine and picking up a piece of paper and thinking that was exciting, to expecting we will have access to multi-technology across regional communities,” she said.
“Between 2016 and 2017 we consumed data at a rate of 38.6 times more then the previous year, that will only continue to increase.
“However for many people in this room the copper landline is still really important, as is the digital radio concentrator system.”
Ms Sommerset said for rural users, one of the biggest benefits of internet connectivity was community connectivity, citing examples of messaging apps, podcasts, video conferencing and online auction sites.
“For me it is a water cooler, I live out of town, I work on lots of boards and am embedded on a cattle property, I can tap into Twitter and search a hash tag to find other communities to connect with people,” she said.
“They say in the future leisure will become more important, so in the rural communities having the ability to connect with like minded people is going to become more important.
“They are things that will allow your workforce to actually live and work remotely.”
Ms Sommerset said there was also potential productivity gains for rural and regional businesses with access to internet connectivity.
“I video conference several of my board committee meetings using Zoom on SkyMuster satellite,” she said.
“It can save me 64 hours a year in driving, just for one board.
“I think people in regional communities are dealing themselves out, because they don’t think they have the connectivity, you can do it on 4G, you can do it on 3G and you can do it on SkyMuster.”
Ms Sommerset said people needed to think about their productivity and look at what tools are available to help them.
“There are some great tools available now, that I don’t think people are tapping into,” she said.
Ms Sommerset said businesses such as Tambo Teddies, Birdsnest, Off the Track Training and the Rural Business Collective showed e-commerce was alive and well in rural areas.
“Some really innovative e-commerce is occurring that we need to tap into,” she said.
“Art, music and culture is also often something people in rural communities can miss out on and being connected gives us the opportunity to tap into it.”
Ms Sommerset said she strongly believed funding to increase digital literacy was required to help drive adoption of new technologies in rural communities.
“Also I think language inhibits people, the language technical organisations and technical people use often puts people off,” she said.
“Make your language community friendly, farmer friendly and family friendly when you are talking about technology.
Ms Sommerset said businesses and communities needed to support efforts to increase connectivity.
“Utilise the connectivity to build community and encourage communities, if you have a workforce that is regionally based, if you’ve got a young family working for you, don’t dismiss it, connectivity is actually a really important part of their life,” she said.
“For yourselves, actively participate, find some things that you can use to make your life more productive and to add richness to your life.”