Small and medium-sized IT providers have welcomed the Federal Government’s plans to appoint an SMB IT advocate, but some claim nothing will change unless it gains extra powers.
The Government’s decision to appoint an SMB IT advocate was announced by Senator Kate Lundy during a keynote speech at CeBIT in Hanover this week. The proposed advocate would lobby major enterprises and government CIOs to take on more SMB IT companies as suppliers.
Managing director of Canberra-based integrator Dataflex, Brian Evans, said the plan was a positive first step by the Government.
“But I would be concerned that without any teeth, nothing is really going to change,” he said. “You could quite easily have SMB business being worth a percentage of overall Government spending…the advocate and new powers are needed immediately.
“I have tried to use vehicles like the Australian Information Industry Association [AIIA] to assist with recognition of SME as suppliers in the IT section in the central Government and I would not say that’s been overly successful. Far too many times, you’ll see the Government limiting it to only multinationals.”
Anittel executive chairman and industry veteran, Peter Kazacos, agreed advocate appointment was a move in the right direction, but said the hesitance of Government CIOs to bring on SMBs was sometimes fair and would require action to change.
“The issue is going to be what sort of teeth does he or she have when performing the role?” he said. “A lot of Government departments are risk averse so there should be a mechanism that will help minimise risk. If that’s not in there, it’ll be very hard for departments to bring in SMBs.”
Kazacos called for an insurance-type fund to recoup Government losses should anything go wrong when working with SMBs.
“If a builder goes broke, there’s insurance to help those affected,” he said. “If SMBs have to provide their own insurance, it’ll be very difficult and expensive.”
Kazacos also claimed the post-Gershon review trend of whole-of-government contracts was gradually cutting out SMBs and disputed Senator Lundy’s claim that “small business competes for Government contracts on a level playing field in Australia and that’s how they like it.”
“We very rarely go after Government business because the cost of tendering,” he said. “Everybody can fill out the forms, but if it was a level playing field then there should be a fair few SMBs that win Government contracts, but none of them do. Most SMBs win the scraps.”
ASI Solutions product manager, Craig Quinn, said Government contracts for SMBs were vital for keeping IT talent in Australia.
“We’ve been fighting for an equal hearing in many Government contracts for many years,” he said. “We have succeeded regularly in getting approval of our products and our status as a supplier but there’s difficulty turning that into significant business.
“We’ve got the technology and we can be competitive, but we just can’t seem to get a valid hearing. Anything that matches opportunities to local vendors is a big plus.”
But Quinn warned forcing government CIOs to accept a quota of SMBs would cause resentment unless they were convinced of quality.
“I certainly wouldn’t complain if there was a quota but if the desire is not there to give local companies a go, then it’s not going to work,” he said.