Tired of being tarred with the same brush as the many dodgy dealers prevailing in their area, South Australia's legitimate independent wholesalers, retailers and repairers formed the Computer Industry Association of SA a couple of years ago. As a body for businesses that are playing in the OEM end of the channel, CIASA is unique in Australia. Its founding and current president, Lissa Haprov - who runs her own successful on-site critical repair and maintenance business - spoke to ARN's Gerard Norsa about the origins and the machinations of this go-forward, channel-based industry body.
ARN: Exactly what is the CIASA?
Haprov: The Computer Industry Association of South Australia is an industry body for those involved full-time in a computer business. We are a body that monitors the business practices of com-puter wholesalers, retailers, repairers and some consultants.
We provide a forum for members to keep up to date on the latest products and trends as well as to exchange relevant industry information. Our membership mainly consists of programmers, retailers, wholesalers and repairers who deal in the so-called "clone" or "white-box".
It was started by business people in the industry for business people in the industry. Right from the start we made it clear that we wanted to stand for good things so that consumers would get a better deal and so we could learn how to become better dealers and buyers.
How is the CIASA different from other industry bodies?
Most of the existing bodies that get support and the ear of government have nothing to do with our end of the channel.
Organisations such as the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA) or the Australian Computer Society (ACS) have nothing to do with the volume end of the channel other than pointing to it and saying that this is where all the problems are.
In a lot of ways they are right. The problems are at the bottom end of the channel in the dealer, repairer and wholesale markets which is also where the majority of small business and home buyers are getting their computers from.
However, the bottom end of the channel has no voice, so we are trying to be that voice in South Australia.
What sort of support do you get from the government?
We now have 85 member businesses and we still get no support from the government, although they are starting to listen to us a bit more as we get bigger in size and profile. The CIASA is still totally supported by people in the industry.
The members make it work and they are mainly small business people.
Considering the huge role the channel plays in the whole industry, it is surprising the lack of support we get from government, and larger industry for that matter.
So what can be done about the problems there are in the industry?
Somewhere, sometime they have to give somebody some type of clout to deal with this part of the industry. It can't just be at the very elite level in which corporates and government move, and it can't just be focused on the concerns of consumers which is what is currently happening; it also has to take in the dealer's point of view.
I think it has to be tackled on a state-by-state basis but there also needs to be a national body with the authority to arbitrate on issues and hand out penalties. We don't mind doing it but it would be good to have some assistance.
The problem is that CIASA can't wave a big stick over someone that is doing something wrong when there is no stick to hold. The only threat we can make is one of membership in our association.
What are the current focuses of the CIASA?
Our next point of focus now that we are growing is to get into accreditation of companies and people to verify they know how to build, sell or repair a good box.
We want to educate people about building better products. There are people opening up left, right and centre without any regulation or verification of their technical ability. We would like to see some form of licensing applied to them.
If a guy is making a mistake, then we have to teach them the right way to do things and if the consumer thinks there is a problem then we have to educate them about what the reality is. We also need somebody to mediate between the two.
Would you like to see this concept extended to every state?
Yes there should be one in every state, but it requires the cooperation and support of government. Someone has to give some industry body some sort of laws to abide by and to legally arbitrate on these matters. There has to be national regulations but the associations should be run at a state level.
It would make a big difference to this industry if every state had a CIA and we would be willing to work with people who want to start something up.
Why is education of consumers and people in the industry so important at this level?
We are heavily into education because we think it is the best way to protect the interests of our members and their customers.
People are asking us questions nobody else is equipped to answer. If nobody is supplying the answers, then the buyer is not going to know the difference between a Celeron and a PII. That can be the difference between getting ripped off $600 or not.
Additionally, if nobody shows a small dealer building some systems the correct way to screw in a hard drive, plait the cables or plug in a CPU, then they are not building the best possible product.
What can vendors and large distributors do to support the small business end of the channel as represented by CIASA?
People at this end of the channel don't have any actual contact with the manufacturers of the products we sell and service, except through their Web sites. I can't talk to Intel very easily. I may be a Genuine Intel Dealer but that is so easy to get and the consumer can't tell from just that title that one dealer is good and another not.
Vendors and distributors need to start working hand in hand with the channel on education, compliancy and accreditation programs, but they also need to make sure that these are applicable to the real world and genuinely worth something.
They need to take some responsibility for how their products are being sold.