The Federal Government has appointed Don Easter as its first SMB IT advocate, effective immediately.
The part-time position was first announced by Senator Kate Lundy on March 3. The advocate’s main objective is to help IT companies gain access to the Government market, which is the largest single customer in Australia.
Easter is currently the managing director of software provider, Attix5, as well as the director of consolidator, BizSave, and Kijuga. He claimed there would be no conflict of interest between his industry advocacy and personal business dealings.
“As a public servant, I have to declare any potential conflict of interest. It could be that we want to sell Attix5 to a Government department. I would have to make sure that’s clearly understood and my partner would work on that, not me,” he said. “It’s all laid out as part of my contract.”
Easter was delighted to accept the role despite the small budget allocated to him and tough challenges facing SMBs chasing Government contracts. He also acknowledged industry criticism of the advocate’s lack of power.
“The Government is under strict fiscal constraint, they need to bring in a tight budget and they can’t afford to throw money at this. I’m certainly not doing this for the money, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m doing it because it’s something interesting and rewarding.
“There seems to be a sense of frustration from smaller businesses that they get excluded and what we need to do is find out why and whether we can influence and change that policy.
“I’ve been in plenty of jobs before where you have no direct power in the position and what you’ve got to do is influence them and use your logic to get things done.”
Easter said his first job would be to consult industry bodies and large tech companies to get a sense of the industry. SMB IT companies would need to understand how risky they appeared to Government CIOs.
“Everybody is much more competitive today because the market is not as buoyant as it was a few years ago,” he said. “I need to find out what the current issues are. I’ve been out of this for a couple of years, so I need to get reoriented to the current issues and map out the plan based on that.”
Easter’s appointment came soon after the Government admitted Australia was falling behind in research and development as well as industry innovation compared to other OECD countries.
Easter agreed there was significant industry criticism against Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr, over the embattled R&D tax credit scheme, but said the Government had provided significant concessions on the issue.
“They wanted to tighten it up and there have been consequences as a result of that but it needs a bit more analysis,” he said. “Let me get my head around that issue in detail. I’ve been reading about it out of personal interest rather than in an effort to achieve a strategic change.”