We have heard nothing but doom and gloom surrounding the Asian "economic meltdown" for some time now. However, stories in this week's ARN show that for Australian channel players looking to expand internationally, Asia still represents the biggest opportunities.
As Craig Baty, Gartner's principal analyst for regional IT services, explains on page 12: "IT is seen as the key component of survival for most countries. When you're having a recession . . . the first thing that improves is IT services."
Australian companies, especially with increased international backing, are best placed to take advantage of the continued growth in IT services in Asia.
In a report prepared by the local arm of Gartner Group into the future of our IT&T industries (also page 12), Australia is described as the most sophisticated user of IT in the Asia-Pacific. This should mean that we have a significant advantage in the production of IT because, according to Gartner's "theory of IT relativity", the more mature your use of IT, the better placed you are to provide IT services and products.
All this makes it even more inexcusable that Australia is such an underachiever in terms of exporting IT.
Gartner forecasts in its report that Australia's IT&T trade deficit could reach $45 billion by the year 2005. That's a lot of money, by anyone's measure. So you'd think it would be pretty important for the Government to rectify this situation.
Making a difference
Of course, all the news last week centred around the Government's tax package. Let's put this into perspective. What's going to make a bigger difference to Australia's economy - a GST or putting Australia on the map as a player in the global production and service of IT&T? (Admittedly, a GST could help the latter.)The Australian Government needs to act now and provide more than token gestures to fixing what is a major problem for our economy.
John Howard was guest of honour at the recent Lucent/Bell Labs opening in Sydney. Although he spoke about "nation building" and how it required Australia to be a "high-tech economy", he was still more intent on talking up his "high-tech tax".
What federal and state governments have so far failed to realise is that Australia does not automatically become a "high-tech country" because we have a lot of regional headquarters in Sydney.
At the launch of its report, Gartner's Bob Hayward explained how he established Candle's regional headquarters here when he was country manager for that company. It made absolutely no difference to the running of the company, employed no more people and made absolutely diddly-squat difference to the Australian economy.
The Government needs to seriously get behind the Australian IT industry and channel. Australia IS a high-tech country but until the government enables our services companies and developers to play on a level footing with the rest of the world, it will mean absolutely nothing to our economy.
I agree wholeheartedly with Hayward. We desperately need leadership in this arena, because right now we simply don't have it.
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