Going in to bat for the IT sector

Going in to bat for the IT sector

ARN: What, broadly, does that AIIA do and how does its work affect channel companies?

Durie: If I put it in a strategic sense, our mission is to lead and represent the information technology [industry] to maximise the potential for the Australian economy. So, what does that mean in practice? What do we actually do? We influence Federal and State Governments to improve the business environment. We market the value and capability of the industry to the market generally and to other countries. We provide forums for member companies to discuss and debate industry issues. We provide members with industry information and intelligence. We have a couple of specific surveys, such as our salary survey, which is the leading sector-specific survey in the country. And we provide a large number of business networking and briefing opportunities for members through our events, which we run for our state branches. So I suppose that's what we do in broad terms, and that's what we do for channel companies.

What do you see as being the biggest challenges currently facing channel companies in Australia?

The continuing dynamic nature of our industry and the marketplace are major challenges. The rapid changes in terms of technology, product cycles . . . and the increasing competitiveness as suppliers look for different ways to market are also right at the forefront. So, just look at the . . . PC marketplace, the channel finds itself competing against its own suppliers, and cooperating with them in other areas, and that tends to be typical of the whole information industry generally where you are both competing against companies and cooperating with them in other environments. So I think it's just that constant pressure of change.

In more general terms, how do you see the Australian IT industry developing in the next one to two years?

If you look at it slightly more broadly, I think the biggest challenge we have is ensuring that Australia maintains and improves its competitive position as an information economy . . . and making it a national priority. And that's certainly an issue the AIIA will be working very hard on from now until the next election, due towards the end of 2001. In terms of Australia as a supplier country, I think the greatest challenge is to take advantage of the window of opportunity we have as the second or third largest market in Asia. Within three to five years, economies like China, India, Korea and others will have larger IT markets than Australia. So we're going to get less attention from the major vendors [and] we're going to have more competition for our goods and services from competing suppliers. So we've really got to claim our place in the market in the next two to three years.

How does Australia fit into the worldwide IT picture?

It's widely recongised that we have very capable, inventive and innovative people and everything's really got to be based on that. There are really two things which indicate where we are. Firstly, in just the last two or three weeks, major international vendors have announced a significant investment in Australia as a place to supply the global market with niche products and services. Nortel, IBM, Oracle and CSC have all made announcements about significant investments in Australia. At the same time, we're gradually developing a suite of a number of companies who are competing on the global market, particularly in the dot-com area, but in other areas as well. So I think we've got to work on those two things - being an attractive place for multinationals to invest, and a competitive environment in which to grow and develop our new companies.

What do you see as being the greatest strengths and weaknesses of services companies, such as those in the channel, in Australia?

I suppose one of the strengths and weaknesses are almost one and the same thing. The strength is the people, and the weakness is we haven't got enough of them. That's a major national challenge - how do we produce enough people with the right skills in order to both populate the channel companies and the development side of the industry, but also the customer base. That's a tremendous challenge. I suppose the other sort of challenge, or weakness if you like, in the channel . . . is that typically, with a few exceptions, we lack scale. So generally speaking, Australian companies are small fry compared to their global competitors. We need to provide an environment where companies can grow and become global in scale.

What are the major issues the AIIA will be lobbying for in the next six to 12 months?

We've set four priority areas. One is industry development, where our main priority is making Australia an information economy. The second priority area is skills, and making sure we've got an education system which is producing the people with the right skills so that the industry can grow and we can apply the technology right across the economy. The third target area is consumer issues, particularly in relation to e-commerce, so that we can create a climate of and confidence for business and consumers. And the fourth is business tax . . . the objective being to have a very competitive business environment so that we can minimise the impact of things like the GST changes and make sure we have a competitive environment, particularly in relation to [areas such as] corporate tax rates [and] capital gains tax.

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