thechamber.com.au is intended to service the Chamber's 150,000 members, as well as to provide fact sheets on a range of business-related topics to small business operators who are not members.
thechamber.com.au is divided into three zones. The Members Zone features networking and discussion fora, and will also give members access to premium business and lobbying advice. The Commerce Zone offers what the Chamber's CEO Katie Lahey described as an "open trading environment" where member businesses can conduct primarily business to business transactions. Sausage Software provides some of the tools available for business operators to develop their Web plans, including its Business in a Box software suite. The Home Zone is where the NSW Chamber of Commerce intends driving some of its functions: the section will host information fact sheets for businesses to download and use in planning or marketing, and will invite members and non-members alike to post comments on GST implementation and other topics. Demand for online services and advice from the small business sector was confirmed by Chamber sponsor St George, whose CEO, Ed O'Neal, estimated that "50 to 60 per cent" of his bank's online transactions were made by small businesses.
"It's about the new economy and the future," said Lahey, adding that the site's target market -- the "time poor, resource poor" SME sector -- could actually use the information and opportunities online at thechamber.com.au. Significantly, the site is a result of the Chamber's own plans to drive more of its functions online and to use the Internet to help manage its own operations, "rather than developing the obligatory Web site" said Lahey, "and maintaining it separately to the business's core functions." Sausage Software CEO Wayne Bos attributed the recent "market correction" to a lack of information in the marketplace about the information technology economy, and said that thechamber.com.au would benefit businesses that "may want to work with the Chamber and be hand-held".
Online resources for the small to medium business sector have been relatively sparse to date. The National Office for the Information Economy provided information on its Web site (www.noie.gov.au), and the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business provides a similar level of information at its site (www.dwrsb.gov.au/). In addition, the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs operates an information site at www.smallbusiness.info.au/. ninemsn's site at http://smallbusiness.ninemsn.com.au/ is effectively a spin-off product from Channel 9's Small Business Show.