Latest release

Characteristics of Australian Business

Statistics in this release include; business use of IT, business innovation, business performance indicators, business finance, markets, and skills.

Reference period
2019-20 financial year

Key statistics

  • 21% of innovation-active businesses collaborated with others for innovation in 2019-20, compared to 14% in 2018-19.
  • 55% of all businesses reported use of paid cloud computing in 2019-20, compared to 42% in 2017-18.
  • Internet security incidents decreased to 8% in 2019-20.
  • 78% of businesses reported receiving government financial assistance in 2019-20.

In 2019-20, as part of the ABS' commitment to reduce provider burden, there were significant changes made to the Business Characteristics Survey content and sample. As part of the content revision, the ABS worked with key stakeholders to select questions related to business characteristics and use of IT that were of most importance. For more details please see Content changes in the Methodology section.

Note that data collected in this release relates to business conditions pre-COVID 19 as well as during the pandemic.

The Business Characteristics Survey (BCS) is currently going through a redevelopment process; the survey will be "decoupled" into separate collections to capture more detailed information on the two principal topics (i.e. innovation and Business Use of IT). The redeveloped BCS Innovation module will be run every two years as a stand-alone survey with a two-year reference period to align more closely with international practices. The collection of Business Use of IT (BUIT) and general characteristics topics will be combined in a single survey to be run every two years. The two surveys will be conducted on alternating reference years, with the first Innovation focused collection to cover the 2020-21 reference period and the first BUIT/Characteristics collection to be run for the 2021-22 reference period.

Innovation

Over half of all businesses (51%) reported being innovation-active in 2019-20. An innovation-active business is one that introduced any type of innovation (i.e. new good, service or process), and/or had innovation which was still in development or abandoned during the reference period. 

Collaboration for innovation

Innovation-active businesses were asked if they collaborated with others to develop or introduce any new goods, services or processes.

In 2019-20, the proportion of businesses that collaborated with others for innovation increased from 14% in 2018-19 to 21% in 2019-20. A number of businesses commented they were driven to collaborate with others to enable them to quickly adapt to changes in the business operating environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increases in the proportion of businesses collaborating for innovation were recorded across all employment size ranges in 2019-20. Businesses with 20-199 persons employed (27%) were the most likely to collaborate for innovation, while businesses with 0-4 persons employed (20%) were least likely.

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  1. Proportions are of innovation-active businesses in each employment size category. 

Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

In 2019-20, for the first time businesses were asked to report on selected Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) they used.

  • 69% of all businesses recorded using one or more ICT.
  • Businesses with 200 or more persons employed (95%) were the most likely to report using one or more ICT.
  • Cloud technology (57%) and Cybersecurity software (26%) were the most common ICTs used by businesses. 
  • 12% of innovation-active businesses reported the use of Internet of Things (IOT) technology, compared to 3% of non-innovation active businesses.
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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each output category.
  2. Businesses could select more than one technology.

Factors that prevented or limited businesses from using ICTs

The four main factors preventing or limiting businesses from using ICTs were:

  • lack of skilled persons within the business (13%);
  • unsuitable internet speed (13%);
  • uncertainty around cost/benefit (12%); and
  • insufficient knowledge of ICTs (12%).

 

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each output category.
  2. Businesses could select more than one factor.

E-Commerce

Business e-commerce related activities increased in 2019-20. During the conduct of this survey a number of businesses commented that trading restrictions due to COVID-19 led them to sell and/or purchase goods or services online.

Orders received online

In 2019-20, half of all businesses reported having received online orders (50%), compared to 41% in 2018-19. Increases were recorded across all employment size ranges except for businesses with 200 or more persons employed.

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each employment size category.

The Wholesale trade (70%), Manufacturing and Retail trade (both 65%) recorded the highest proportion of businesses that received orders online.

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each industry category.

Orders placed online

In 2019-20, 68% of businesses placed online orders, compared to 63% in 2018-19. Increases were recorded across all employment size ranges except for businesses with 200 or more persons employed.

Businesses in Retail trade (82%), Information, media and telecommunications and Wholesale trade (both 79%) were the most likely to report having placed orders online.

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each industry category.

Paid cloud computing

Cloud computing refers to IT services that are used over the internet to access software, computing power or storage capacity.

Business use of paid cloud computing continued to grow in 2019-20, with over half (55%) of all businesses using paid cloud computing services, compared to 42% in 2017-18.

The use of paid cloud computing increased with each consecutive employment size category; four in five (81%) businesses with 200 or more persons employed reported using this service.

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each employment size category.

Internet security incidents and breaches

Internet security incidents and breaches indicators measure the occurrence of cybersecurity attacks including:

  • virus, trojan, worms, web bugs, spyware, adware;
  • unauthorised network access;
  • unexpected redirects to unknown websites;
  • attacks resulting in denial of service and;
  • theft or loss of software or data.

Internet security incidents or breaches intercepted by businesses security measures were excluded.

The proportion of businesses that reported internet security incidents or breaches continues to decline; 8% in 2019-20, compared with 11% in 2017-18 and 16% in 2015-16. In 2019-20, 20% of all businesses reported having upgraded their cyber security software, standards or protocols as part of their management practices for the use of ICTs.

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each output category.
  2. The sum of the component items may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Australian government financial assistance

The proportion of businesses that reported having received any government financial assistance increased from 13% in 2018-19 to 78% in 2019-20.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state/territory and local government initiatives were put in place to support businesses. These initiatives included (but are not limited to): JobKeeper Payment Scheme; JobMaker Hiring Credit; Supporting Apprentices and Trainees; and Boosting Cashflow for Employers.

The most common forms of government financial assistance reported were:

  • Subsidies (59%)
  • Tax concessions (27%)
  • Grants (23%)

By industry, the proportion of businesses that reported receiving any government financial assistance ranged from 63% in Mining to 86% in Arts and Recreation Services.

A number of businesses commented that they relied heavily on government financial assistance due to impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  1. Proportions are of all businesses in each output category.
  2. Businesses could select more than one type of government financial assistance.
  3. Nil or rounded to zero in 2018-19.

Data downloads

The 2019-20 BCS was amended to reduce burden on Australian businesses.

Some questions relating to general business characteristics, non-core innovation and business use of IT were removed for the 2019-20 reference period.

Three new questions were added to the Use of IT section of the survey form:

  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) used;
  • Factors preventing or limiting businesses from using ICTs; and
  • Sources of IT support.

Response option changes were made to the following questions:

  • business performance comparison for the current year compared to the previous year;
  • factors significantly hampering innovation;
  • connection types to access the internet; 
  • paid cloud computing services used; and
  • management practices implemented for the use of ICT.

The 2019-20 BCS questionnaire can be found via the Data downloads section.

Data downloads

Data files

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 8167.0

ABS.Stat datasets

Help for: ABS.Stat Datasets

Selected business internet activities, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Use of paid cloud computing, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Factors that limited or prevented the use of paid cloud computing, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Internet security incidents or breaches and the impact, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Extent of IT use in business processes, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Employee working arrangements, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Geographic markets in which businesses sold goods or services, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Government procurement, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Main supplier of goods or services, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Government financial assistance received, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Reasons for seeking debt or equity finance, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Barriers to general business activities or performance, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Barriers to innovation, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Skills used in undertaking core business activities, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20

Skills shortage or deficiency in undertaking core business activities, by innovation status, by industry, by employment size – 2019-20