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Australian gov't spends $251M to make SMEs IT savvy

Australia's small enterprises are set for an IT facelift through a A$251 million splurge to bolster the nation's innovation and competitiveness. The Enterprise Connect network comprises of 10 innovation and manufacturing centers which will train SMEs on how to improve business operations through deploying new technology and using existing infrastructure more efficiently. Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr said $10 million will be spent to place experts in businesses to improve innovation. "Our message to SMEs is that you don't have to do it all on your own. Given the urgency and complexity of the challenges we face, you probably couldn't if you tried," Carr said. "Enterprise Connect is a mixture of new ideas developed in response to local conditions, and proven ideas drawn from our study of initiatives elsewhere. "We are increasing the investment from $35 million a year (under the former Australian Industry Productivity Centre plan) to $51 million a year, plus extra funds over the next two years to meet establishment costs." A series of councils will be created to push the innovation message to SMEs and develop long-term strategies. The manufacturing centers will be set up in NSW, Victoria, WA, Tasmania and SA and will benchmark business processes against best practice. Classifying 'best practice' will be left to QMI solutions CEO Jim Walker and a committee of 15 other members from government, education and private industry. QMI, formerly the Queensland Manufacturing Institute, was created in 1993 as a joint venture between the then Queensland Department of State Development, CSIRO, Department of Education and Training and Queensland University of Technology. The centers will provide business with 'links' to prototyping and testing facilities and cut red tape to crack open government program funding. Five innovation centers will be opened across the country, including a mining technology center in Queensland, remote enterprise in the Northern Territory, innovation regions in Victoria, and two others dedicated to creative industries and clean energy. The plan was based off the Manufacturing Extension Partnership in the United States and the Manufacturing Advisory Service in the United Kingdom.