Local software companies where smacked early in COVID but remain confident over the longer term, according to a new report from The Australian Business Software Association, a not-for-profit association representing the local business software sector.

The report called Business Software Industry COVID-19 Impacts Report looks at how software providers are responding and recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

  • ABSIA is holding a free webinar on Tuesday, 7 July at 10:30am (AEST) to present the report’s findings.

“While our survey revealed that the business software industry has not been immune to the impacts of COVID-19, the majority of our members responded effectively during the pandemic and are optimistic about the future of their businesses,” said Chris Howard, director, and president, ABSIA.

Over half (54 per cent) of respondents experienced considerable to major immediate or short-term impacts from COVID-19, with a further 35 per cent experiencing few or minimal impacts. For approximately 10 per cent of respondents there was no impact or change as a result of the pandemic.

Interestingly, while nearly one third (32 per cent) of respondents are worried about the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on their customers, the same percentage reported a small or large increase in customers during that period.

Three quarters (74 per cent) of the companies surveyed didn’t reduce staffing levels during the pandemic, and more than half (55 per cent) expect to increase staffing levels in the next six months, either to grow (48 per ) or to refill (6 per cent).

A resounding 66 per cent believe that the next 12 months will be a significant time for innovation and technological change, with a much smaller percentage uncertain (17 per cent).

“Innovation and technological change will be critical to Australia’s road to recovery and the ongoing resiliency of our economy. The business software industry can play a key role in that, but a lot also depends on the government’s policy direction and what that does to foster business and consumer confidence,” said Howard.

ABSIA’s survey also uncovered the industry’s ability to adapt and respond to the challenges of COVID-19, and the longer-term impact of the pandemic on their businesses. When asked if they will be implementing changes in how they operate, 39 per cent responded that they would, while 32 per cent said that they would not. However, feedback from this second group indicated that they had already largely implemented more flexible and distributed working, as well cloud-based systems and products.

New ways of working

AccountKit, an Adelaide-based provider of integrated cloud applications for accountants and bookkeepers, was able to keep the business operating by relying on videoconferencing calls and Slack collaboration to replace their daily stand-up meetings. Additional functionality was included in its software to meet the specific requirements in response to COVID-19, such as payment deferrals, and the team was a lot more hands-on and engaged with existing clients.

“Our main users are accountancy firms, who have been incredibly busy supporting their own clients during the crisis,” said Paul Murray, founder, AccountKit. “We knew it would be difficult to win any new business, so we took the lockdown as an opportunity to reach out to our existing client base and offer whatever assistance we could to use our applications more effectively. We found that a lot were not using our cloud platform to its full capacity and they really appreciated our help, so we will definitely maintain a more hands-on engagement with our users in the future.”

AccountKit has also seen an uplift in business in the last few weeks, with accounting firms who had struggled to access their systems during the lockdown realising that they need flexible, cloud-based applications to operate more resiliently in the future.

Cloud-based recruitment software provider FastTrack implemented its business continuity plan in early March to safeguard its service and Melbourne team, a large number of whom were using public transport to travel into the office. FastTrack was already well prepared for the scenario with the implementation of ISO27001 and an existing working from home policy with staff who had already been regularly working remotely.

“We have an obligation to the health and wellbeing of our staff as well as the services we deliver to our customers, so we consulted with staff and made the quick decision to switch to working from home. Staff were instructed to take whatever they needed from the office to work effectively from home, which in most instances was only their laptop. It wasn’t even a blip on the radar – there was no difference in the service experience for our customers. If anything, our team put in even more effort to make sure things ran smoothly. In staff surveys, most of our people have appreciated the amount of time they have back in their daily lives with no travel. We will definitely be maintaining a permanent work from home arrangement for part of each week for those who want it,” said Jason Quirk, Chief Technology Officer, FastTrack.

FastTrack has been flexible with its subscription-based services, providing free access to add-ons like Geo-Location to help place candidates close to the job for safety and even freezing fees for those customers who have gone into hibernation, so that the services can be quickly switched back on once they resume business.

The company says it has seen a significant downturn in the job market, which has had a flow-on effect to its customers, who are primarily in the recruitment and staffing sectors. However, that has already started to rebound by around 10 per cent, and is continuing to improve. With its customers nervous about the ongoing impact of COVID-19, FastTrack worked quickly to develop analytics tools to interrogate its own system’s data and report on industry trends. The end result is a weekly industry report that is providing its customers with far greater insight and certainty about the future of the sector.

Remote working

ReadyTech a provider of critical business applications including payroll processing services,  says it quickly enabled its teams around the country to work remotely. With ReadyTech’s client base spanning multiple diverse industries, it witnessed the challenges (both negative and positive) of COVID-19. To support clients during the period, ReadyTech ran a series of webinars to educate them on any changes and new features to its systems, and provided support to ensure critical services were maintained throughout.

“Our top priority has been to help our clients in any way possible to make sure they don’t miss a payroll. Some industries – particularly in travel and hospitality – have been severely impacted through this pandemic, so having the right internal resources in place to manage this process has been confrontational for some. We also had to make sure our clients were JobKeeper-ready and, now that we have reached end-of-financial-year, it’s more important than ever for their information to be accurate. There’s going to be extra government scrutiny on employers to make sure they have been correctly applying the various financial stimulus and support packages available,” said Daniel Wyner, Chief Executive, Employment, ReadyTech.

Wyner believes that post-JobKeeper, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the state of the local economy, particularly for those businesses with an international footprint. He is “cautiously optimistic” about the business outlook, as ReadyTech itself has seen an acceleration in digital transformation initiatives. Some businesses’ inflexible systems and operating procedures have been exposed by COVID-19, bringing greater levels of interest in the automation and simplification benefits and insights offered in technologies including workforce management and payroll.

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