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Making e-hay while the sun shines

Making e-hay while the sun shines

It is no secret that the proliferation of Internet-based companies listing on the Australian Stock Exchange has breathed new life into what was a southward-headed bourse.

That in itself is of great benefit to the local economy but it speaks volumes about the state of Australia's IT&T industry.

These local listings clearly show that Australia has the Internet product and technical know-how to take on the world. There are enough examples of local talent and products going head-to-head with and beating the US giants to give that statement credence.

But it hasn't been easy. Not too long ago the Keating Government attempted to kick start the Australian multimedia and online industry by establishing the Australian Multimedia Enterprise (AME). With $40 million in the bank to invest in developing the local industry, it appeared at last the locals were going to have the opportunity to get the much-needed startup capital to allow them to compete with the well-established and better-funded US market.

In the US, where investment capital is and has been readily available, the industry was booming and innovation flourishing.

Unfortunately the AME did not live up to its expectations, yet that's history. The likes of Evan Thornley, co-founder and CEO of LookSmart, turned to other sources of capital. Fortunately, he was not totally turned off the Australian experience - indeed he was in town this month announcing the listing of LookSmart on the ASX.

I have to declare that I work for LookSmart, but regardless of that fact I don't think there is any doubt that it is the most successful Australian origin-ated Internet company.

But the wheel appears to have turned for a large number of other Australian Internet-based innovations, far too many to itemise here.

This view of a strong and positive environment is not just gut feel on my part: the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE), in its recent report E-Commerce beyond 2000 clearly states that business is rapidly embracing the Internet and its new channels of purchase and supply.

According to the report: "Businesses that are implementing e-commerce solutions are finding that the process throws the cost of their supply chain under the spotlight. With e-commerce they have been able to slice out parts of their supply chain that add little value.

"Existing retailers may see widespread use of e-commerce as a threat to the extent that it increases the capacity of manufacturers or service providers to sell direct to customers without traditional retail inputs," the report adds.

There are some in the traditional channel who attempt to hold back that tide, but any objective view of statistics will show that it is like holding back a tsunami with a squeegie. The NOIE report says that 53 per cent of US Internet users shop online and they spend an average of $US4500 per transaction. Research by the Peppers and Rogers Group at Stamford and The Institute for the Future, Menlo Park, California shows that sales of products and services delivered directly to the home may account for as much as 24 per cent of all retail sales in the US by 2010.

Australian e-commerce back-end solutions which are affordable to small-to-medium businesses are now available and being taken up as businesses realise that the fear factor of security, reliability and service were red herrings designed to slow down the take up ofe-commerce.

More and more capital is flowing into the e-commerce development arena as more firms list or are able to find investors willing to chance their arms in the world of new technology.

A planned moved by the ASX to develop quarterly reporting rules for startups similar to those which exist for NASDAQ listings will help to weed out failures rapidly giving greater security to potential investors. All things considered it's a great time to be in the IT industry.

Tony Blackie is chairman of BlackieMcDonald and guava interactive. He can be reached at tony.blackie@bmcd.com.au


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