• The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic affected Australian businesses in vastly different ways. 
  • PwC Australia identified an opportunity for businesses to come together to solve these challenges, teaming up with Salesforce and Google to create Project Spirit.
  • Project Spirit’s marketplace can be used as a catalyst to reinvent the ways businesses collaborate in the post-COVID-19 ‘new normal’.

When the spread of COVID-19 forced governments to impose lockdowns and social distancing measures, Australian businesses were faced with the need to rapidly adapt to disruption of their operations. The need to go digital was front of mind for some businesses, while others grappled with supply chain disruptions. 

What became clear was that COVID-19 affected Australian businesses in different ways. However, solving these problems at the pace required amid rapidly evolving circumstances was proving a challenge, as Sue Horlin, PwC Australia Sydney managing partner, explains. 

“Businesses needed to make significant changes, quickly. Our team started to see opportunities to help businesses come together to achieve this,” she says. 

Where some businesses had a need, others had a complementary capacity, effectively enabling one to solve the other’s problem. PwC consultants found a match between one organisation, for example, which had a product that continued to be in high demand, but being a bricks-and-mortar operation had no way to deliver to customers who were in isolation at home, and another business, which had excess delivery capacity in its logistics fleet.

As more anecdotes such as these emerged, PwC began to consider how it could use its skills and network to try and help these businesses connect, and in turn help keep the economy moving through the duration of the pandemic and its recovery on the other side. 

Creating Project Spirit

The idea to create a digital marketplace to help match businesses that needed, or could share, skills, capabilities or opportunities was born. But it needed a platform to underpin it, and insights to drive it. To help realise its potential, PwC turned to business partners Salesforce and Google to create Project Spirit.

Salesforce’s market-leading CRM solution, with its Customer 360 platform, created the vehicle through which businesses can connect. Google brought its vast insights on what people were searching and where they were located, which helped to create the experience for Australian businesses while using the platform. 

“The heart of Project Spirit was creating the marketplace that allows people from businesses from all sizes to connect to each other,” Pip Marlow, CEO Salesforce Australia and NZ explains. “Allowing businesses to reinvent, pivot, scale and find new opportunities — we knew the impact of creating this marketplace and bringing it to life was a valuable way to give back”. 

Not only is it designed to help businesses weather the financial storm brought by COVID-19, it will allow them to reimagine the way they do business in the future.

“This platform is designed to help Australian businesses come together to find innovative new ways to connect — no matter the industry or business size — in a way they didn’t or couldn’t before.” Marlow says. 

Sharing the same vision, Mel Silva, Managing Director and VP, Google Australia and NZ says Google’s objective was to help businesses reimagine what’s possible. “What we at Google leaned into was enabling the connections that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.” 

A rapid digital transformation

Project Spirit is an online marketplace where businesses can browse and post specific offers or requests for assets, resources or expertise; and connect with other businesses. It’s also a tools and resources hub to help people analyse their business and identify challenges and new opportunities, and includes curated stories of businesses that have successfully reinvented themselves.

Some early insights from the platform show a diverse range of businesses connecting — such as equipment hire companies, digital marketing and learning and development consultants. Many are on the platform with a need to reach customers online when previously they were solely a face-to-face business. Silva says what has been notable is the “speed at which digital transformation is taking place, and the speed at which the end consumer is looking for a digital connection for what was previously an offline transaction”. 

According to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey, eCommerce has boomed during the past three months, with more customers purchasing nonfood items online than ever before. Those that are engaging with the Project Spirit are seeking business advice on how to navigate what will be a ‘new normal’ and exploring ways to reach customers in a different way. They’re also navigating cost reductions, change and risk management. 

The hope is that this platform will become an integral part of the way businesses ‘do business’ going forward. Collaboration and information sharing will become crucial in leaner times, when customers are adapting their behaviours amid changing economic and physical circumstances. 

Reimagining doing business

“If we’re going to be successful as an economy, we need to give business confidence to innovate in this environment. There are still customers who need goods and services,” Horlin says. “The economy isn’t in the same place, but customers are out there and you have to think differently to be able to reach them.” 

“Businesses need to meet customers where they are,” adds Silva. “They should ask themselves how are they giving them peace of mind, and creating a seamless experience when they are there?” Silva says. Part of this is using the time during COVID-19 to reinvest in providing a better digital experience. 

Google records the locations of businesses when they use the platform, allowing them to filter by location. But it’s also important that businesses, particularly regional Australia, realise that their customer base can expand well beyond their region, indeed, globally, with the right digital presence. 

Getting more small businesses digital will be the key to survival for many, Marlow says. “A lot of companies haven’t necessarily got a digital profile, so getting more Aussie businesses online is key to surviving.” Critical to this is putting a focus on mental wellness, with many small business owners experiencing significant stress as a result of the disruption to their operations, she says. 

“We are facing something we haven’t done before. Thinking about the wellness of our community is really important.” 

The marketplace need not only be a place to transact, but also share ideas with businesses that are going through similar experiences. 

The spirit of collaboration

“Businesses that work together are likely to give each other confidence and the tools to innovate and be successful in the changed environment — which could be for the next 12 to 24 months, or until we have a vaccine,” Horlin says. 

For Project Spirit itself, it’s still early days. The three companies who created it believe it will help pave the way for the Australian business community to rethink the way they work together. 

“We see the untapped potential of this marketplace,” Horlin says. “While this was definitely a response to COVID-19, we all believe that this is how business can and should do business. We think this is an opportunity for business to connect with others in a different way, and how we can drive more innovation in our economy — you can get something done a lot faster when you partner with someone with different skills set and experiences.”

Just ask the teams from Google, Salesforce and PwC, who together, brought Project Spirit to life.  

For more information and to get involved with Project Spirit, visit the website.