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Digital Boost (Small Business Digital Enablement) Programme

Digital Boost Launch

New Zealand wants our small businesses to be the most digitally enabled in the world. Digital Boost helps owners and employees to build confidence and skills to digitally transform their businesses. Cynefin complexity theory, agile programme development, and public-private partnerships are used to deliver easily accessible learning and services. This includes bespoke playlists of video content, online diagnostic tools, peer-learning support and free or discounted digital equipment or services.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Before COVID-19, only half of New Zealand business owners had an online presence. Self-employed and small businesses make up over 97% of all New Zealand businesses and employ more than 630,000 people, who earn over 25% of NZ's GDP and generate 41% of all new jobs. Research estimated that the annual economic benefit of a 20% increase in cloud computing alone would increase annual GDP by $6.2 billion. Estimates indicate that if NZ were to 'fully leverage digital by 2030', the increase in annual GDP would be equivalent to approximately 14% of New Zealand's GDP today - $46.6 billion. The Digital Boost Programme support was needed to make NZ businesses more sustainable and resilient with or without the pandemic.

Digital Boost supports small business owners to digitally transform their operating models, not only through the adoption of digital hardware and software but through process changes, new skills, capabilities and having deeper insight into their business through data.

Instead of Government’s traditional detailed ‘one-off’ design and procurement process, Digital Boost was collaboratively designed and is constantly adapted through the application of Cynefin complexity theory and Agile programme management to respond to regular user feedback and research insights.

The four key pillars/outcomes of the programme target SMEs at every stage of their digital journey:

  • Energise: small business owners are motivated and ready to adopt digital business tools and practices.
  • Educate: small business owners understand how digital tools and practices can enhance their business
  • Equip: small businesses can access a wide range of trusted and relevant tools and services
  • Embed: digital tools, practices and thinking are embedded into small businesses.

These pillars underpin the overall programme design and ensure new innovative initiatives are cohesive and aligned to the overall objective:

Energise: Digital Boost Spotlight videos showcase real-world case studies that offer an in-depth look at the experiences of small businesses that adopted digital tools and methods, and demonstrate to others how digital transformation helps businesses succeed. These were promoted utilising dynamic marketing campaigns, including social influencers, and targeted efforts for hard-to-reach audiences, rather than traditional government messaging channels.

Educate: Digital Boost Educate is a free digital skills training platform available to any small business owner (or employee) who wants to accelerate their digital transformation. The 1-1:many platform offers over 600 short video tutorials, Q&A sessions, daily live expert workshops and help desk support. This has proven to be more accessible, efficient and successful than traditional ‘in-person’ training.

The Digital Facilitation Scheme offers extra local peer-group support and encouragement to small businesses using the Educate platform and Checkable tool. Support is delivered through facilitated learning sessions, where cohorts of businesses receive tailored guidance, while also giving them the chance to build relationships with other businesses that are at a similar digital journey stage.

Equip: The Digital Boost Alliance is a collaboration between the Government and 47 private sector organisations focused on motivating and supporting small businesses, individuals, and communities to lift their use of digital technologies. Each Alliance partner has committed to providing free, subsidised or discounted tech or services to help Kiwis succeed in their digital journey

Embed: Instead of traditional business advice, Digital Boost Checkable is a free tool that uses Artificial Intelligence and digital diagnostic tools to comprehensively analyse a business’ website and social media platforms. Short videos and learning guides explain the checks being run, and a bespoke Digital Action Plan provides users with the information needed to have insightful implementation conversations with technology providers, business advisors, and lenders.

A range of new improvements are currently underway:

  • Creating more in-depth learning modules.
  • Expanding content for new sectors such as agriculture, horticulture and construction.
  • Development of additional digital diagnostic tools (e.g. cyber security).
  • Improving the availability of digital business advisors.
  • Working with Digital Boost Alliance members to form collaborative offers and initiatives.

Digital Boost is on track to have 60,000 users on the platform by December 2022 and 10,000 Checkable users by December 2022. With the continued growth we also expect to see:

  • Increase in measures via the Small Business Digital Health Survey
  • Increase in measures in employment and household income surveys
  • Increase in GDP and overseas revenue, along with improved living standards
  • Reductions in business travel and industry emission levels from surveys
  • A shift in the job market toward more digital jobs

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Digital Boost is a New Zealand first and follows an outcomes framework recognising key steps in a small business digitalisation journey. Using Cynefin complexity theory and Agile programme management ensures an ever-evolving programme is constantly being tested and adapted to the needs of small businesses. Checkable utilises AI, natural language processing, business diagnostics and data analytics to give businesses bespoke action plans that prioritise areas of improvement. Digital Boost Educate breaks down learning content into bespoke playlists of bite-sized videos that are easy to digest (rather than long academic documents). The Digital Facilitation scheme provides facilitated peer support and advice to businesses. Finally, the Digital Boost programme benefits from the voluntary collaboration and innovation efforts of 47 Digital Boost Alliance members that include major trading banks, digital service providers, telcos and tech providers in New Zealand.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Digital Boost is not a linear programme pathway; it has multiple phases of review, innovation and implementation for different features. Two independent evaluations have been done and regular user feedback enables our Learning Management Software to provide personalised online learning experiences. This also supports new diagnostic tools (e.g. cyber security) that assist users in being digitally resilient and sustainable, and act as ‘beach-head’ learning to introduce other users to the wider learning available on the Educate platform.

Digital Boost currently has 54,040 registered Educate site users, 6,580 businesses have used the Checkable tool, and the Facilitation Scheme has supported over 3585 businesses to implement Digital Action Plans and use the platform. 62% of users now feel their businesses are digitally capable, 80% have a website, and 79% would recommend the programme to others. 55% also report a frequent sense of optimism and hope (17% higher than the national average).

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Small businesses and stakeholders are collectively working together at every level to help deliver the knowledge, tools, and services small businesses need to succeed in their digital adoption journey. Educate and Checkable were developed in partnership with The Mind Lab, TTRO, Google, Salesforce and Datacom. The Facilitation Scheme is provided by business, community, or industry leaders. The Digital Boost Alliance involves the private sector working in voluntary partnership with the government.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Small business users are most impacted by Digital Boost. They have free online access to expert advice and skills to participate in the digital economy and increased productivity. Changing small businesses (97% of all NZ businesses) will have an impact on Kiwi communities. Digital Boost training content and stories are integrated and shared through other government, private sector and NGO channels. This supports wider system connection, streamlined messages and exposure to industry groups.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Digital Boost takes advantage of a variety of research and data sources – from data recorded at registration, behaviour on the platform, multivariate segmentation, campaign measurement, Google Analytics and two annual research monitors. This allows us to clearly compare, contrast and measure the success of the programme – as well as inform how best it should evolve, for whom and with what. Evaluation results from August 2022 showed that 23% of businesses reported improved revenue after using Digital Boost, and for those who engage weekly with the platform, this figure increases to 39%. Additionally, 79% of users would recommend Digital Boost to others, 89% of users intend to continue using the platform, and long-term users note increases in digital capability. In the future, we expect more business owners to participate and implement the digital skills they’ve learned to help increase productivity, revenue, well-being and economic/environmental sustainability of their business.

Challenges and Failures

We faced several challenges while designing and building the programme during the COVID-19 pandemic. We worked with various private organisations, all of whom had to readjust their priorities to launch the programme during a turbulent time.

New Zealand's business landscape is diverse. The platform caters for this through self-paced modules that are divided into six broad categories, each containing numerous industry-specific subcategories. We launched a new awareness campaign that uses more traditional advertising methods for older age groups and rural businesses. To engage similar audience groups, we created case studies featuring older business owners.

While most of our initiatives are designed as a one-to-many approach, we identified that some industry segments needed a more hands-on approach to digital learning. We developed the Digital Boost Facilitation scheme, where support and guidance are provided to cohorts of 8 or 15 businesses in similar stages of their digital journey.

Conditions for Success

Developing Digital Boost demanded enthusiasm and commitment from a team of both Government and private sector stakeholders who saw the potential and difference this programme could make in the lives of small businesses. The Government was willing to risk getting Digital Boost to market quickly and was open to learning and adjusting as needed. The Government provided political support and the resources required to launch the programme.

Because of the innovative nature of the platform, private sector organisations were eager to provide their expertise to help understand the digital economy and the current state of SMEs in New Zealand. With the development of Digital Boost, The Mind Lab could effectively manage and develop the site by creating the relevant infrastructure and committing to continually adapting the platform.


Digital Boost is the only platform of its kind in New Zealand and has scalability both locally and internationally. The creation of sector-specific content de-mystifies what being digital means and creates value specific to each industry's needs. The sector-specific content allows Government and private organisations to communicate their value to a hard-to-reach audience. We are currently working with other Government departments to integrate some of our content into their resources. New Zealand organisations have also expressed an interest in replicating the same video learning approach for their audiences.

Although Digital Boost has not yet gone international, research has indicated its potential value and adaptability. In the future, Digital Boost can help guide the development of similar platforms overseas; however, it's crucial to note that the platform and content will need to be altered to fit the needs and preferences of each nation.

Lessons Learned

In developing the programme, we learned:

  • Maintaining positive, productive, and trustworthy relationships with partners and service providers who share our vision was key to navigating the complex, ever-changing landscape of the programme.
  • Successful delivery was mainly due to our ‘test and learn’ (Cynefin) approach supported by agile programme management. This allowed the release of changes in increments to improve customer satisfaction and application usability.
  • Effort is needed at all levels to drive data capturing and analysis to ensure we develop tools and services that are responsive to the changing and varied needs of users, not the views of international corporations.
  • People want to redefine what commercial and private ‘success’ looks like in the future digital economy. Many private sector tech companies will volunteer for this opportunity.
  • Most importantly, our vision to support small businesses on their digitalisation journey was at the centre of all design.

Anything Else?

Another integral component of the programme has been accessibility and inclusion—particularly for those population groups that might face digital equity or inclusion challenges. Considerable effort has been made to reproduce 200 learning videos in Te Reo for the Māori population, and subtitles are available in Samoan, Tongan, Hindi and Simplified Chinese to cater to the diverse small business population. We also made the learning videos accessible to those users with disabilities. The Education platform can also be accessed via Apple and Android-compatible mobile apps for those on the move or who don't have access to a laptop.

Supporting Videos


  • Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
  • Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity
  • Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

24 January 2023

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