The IT industry has to get serious about addressing consumer problems or the pressure on government to act will become irresistible. And this could even mean a computer industry ombudsman.
This was the takeaway message from a two-day summit held in Melbourne last week to address some of the issues facing those who sell and service computer equipment.
The conference was arranged by the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business Australia (SOCAP) with the support of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Victorian Office of Fair Trading.
The title of the conference - Computers, Information Technology and Customer Service: A Contradiction in Terms? - suggested that the outcome had been predetermined, but, according to SOCAP committee member Bill Dee, some action steps were agreed to by the 54 delegates.
A communiqué will be sent from SOCAP to the AIIA and Retail Traders Council regarding the establishment of an industry code of conduct and seeking their assistance. Dee said that the summit also suggested writing to the ACCC to seek its involvement in enforcement and compliance activity in the industry, as well as the Ministerial Council of Consumer Affairs and Australian Securities and Investment Commission, to target so-called "phoenix companies".
"It was decided to follow up these matters in three months with another one-day conference," Dee added.
He said that no one at the conference denied there was a problem in the industry and that something needs to be done, and the comment was made that the conference represented "the end of the beginning". Comparisons were made with the banking and insurance industries, which Dee described as being "dragged kicking and screaming into being more consumer responsive, with industry panels and codes of conduct".
He estimated that there were two or three IT resellers represented at the conference, but insisted that the industry as a whole has to address consumer problems, provide digestible information for consumers and set minimum standards of service and dispute resolution. "The ball is firmly in the industry's court," Dee concluded.