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EDITORIAL: The golden touch-up

EDITORIAL: The golden touch-up

It is easy to conclude that the impact of One.Tel's demise has little to do with the channel. The reality is far more difficult to dismiss.

The local arm of Lucent Technologies finds itself way out on a limb and sweating on the next development - chaos which cannot be beneficial to the network hardware company's vast channel.

But it is not just Lucent that will be hurting if some of the One.Tel cards fall the wrong way. The GSM network's failure to fly is last thing Cisco and Nortel - or their channel partners for that matter - want to see in the midst of a tough economic climate.

Not only will a massive amount of infrastructure from one of the most ambitious network projects ever undertaken in Australia land on the market at fire-sale prices, but selling new ones will become that much harder as viability is questioned.

Then there is the nice old touch-up given to two of Australia's fattest corporate families and various other prominent institutional and private investors. Someone is going to have to patch those holes that have been burnt in the pockets of the Packer and Murdoch empires, with the most likely candidates being the companies engaging in commercial transactions with other family enterprises.

In addition to the billions of dollars of investor funds that have mysteriously vapourised, over 3000 creditors are owed in excess of $600 million. The list of creditors reads like a who's who of technology suppliers. Lucent, Telstra, Compaq, Optus, - name a big technology vendor - it seems One.Tel managed to snip them all to some degree or another.

But perhaps the worst outcome of this corporate shemozzle is the weight of the blow that such a public collapse inflicts on confidence in the technology industry as a whole. Billion-dollar stories raise eyebrows in anyone's language and the falling share price of all local technology stocks, regardless of their viability, is testament to the gloom One.Tel has cast on the industry.

We won't be seeing too many IPOs in the next year or so, irrespective of the merits, liquidity and profitability of an enterprise.

Faith in tier-two technology companies of any description has also been well and truly shattered. Investors, suppliers and customers will be reconsidering whom they develop relations with. No doubt about it, there are a few people who were at the top of all this who owe a large debt to the economy as a whole and to future technology growth in Australia.

Of course One.Tel is not the only factor in declining investment support for the industry. The very public and rapid fall from grace by even some of the foundation stones of the technology boom - Lucent, Cisco and Nortel for example - is being mirrored in Australian technology stocks. All this despite the fact that many of the companies are fundamentally no less sound than they were 12 months ago.

You'd have to suspect there are some investment bargains out there at the moment that are roosting in the same hen-house that accommodates some of the more dodgy chickens.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the two most public faces of the One.Tel disaster are channel stalwarts. Jodee Rich and Brad Keeling cut their teeth in the IT supply chain, once occupying key roles in the rise, rise and demise of the one-time dominant channel company, Imagineering.

That was a long time ago but there have been no shortage of references in the media to the similarities between the fatal flights of One.Tel and Imagineering. With so many former Imagineering staff now playing prominent roles in the IT industry, there must be some interesting stories that can be told about the life and times of Rich and Keeling.

Former colleagues of the two.tels should feel free to e-mail me with details of any other skeletons that should be let out of the closet. There are plenty of legs left in this story yet and, I suspect, many channel angles.


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